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Welcome. Bienvenue. Guten Tag. This is an anthology of Nettime, an internet 
mailing list— an attempt to transform thousands of emails, articles, and com- 
ments into book form. But what is "Nettime"? Once upon a time, an unlikely 
group of people gathered around a table in a house somewhere in a German for- 
est. Around the table sat a group of men, all eating, talking, drinking, sampling 
each other's ideas. The language was German. The hours passed, and the table 
burgeoned under a mass of papers, notes, books. At the end, they cleared the 
table, taking various notes with them as they returned to their own desks, scat- 
tered across Europe, from Amsterdam to Budapest. The months passed; email 
was exchanged. Another meeting was planned for late spring 1995— this time in 
Venice, the floating city during the Biennale in the Teatro M alibran. By night it 
housed an imported Berlin club scene; by day the men— and now a few 
women— gather. The languages are English, fast and slow, sometimes broken, 
and also some Italian. The days pass, and once again the table disappears under 

the papers, notes, books, scribbles, it was at this second meeting of the 
Medien Zentralkomi ttee (ZK) that the Nettime mailing list is con- 
ceived. The ZK itself uias a parasite attached to the main body of the 
Biennale; it had a small budget to invite a eclectic group of inter- 
national activists, artists, organizers, theoreticians, and writers, 
all involved with the net, for an intense three-day, closed meeting. 
The name: Nettime. The topics: the city metaphor versus the life 
metaphor, the labyrinths of real and virtual worlds, wandering web- 
sites, the city-state, a critique of the political agenda that would 
come to be called the "Californian Ideology," and the perennial ques- 
tion of art. Nettime became a reality at this meeting. Or so one ver- 
sion of the story goes. Since this is the story of a network, there 
is a network of stories about the its multiple beginnings. Some day 
someone will think of a way to write a history of such a network. For 

the time being, this fable will have to do. T he Venice group Cleared the 
table and departed for the desks and screens back home. T he passing days turn 
into weeks, then a month— traffic began to rise on the N ettime list. 0 ver a series 
of meetings, festivals and events— in Budapest, Amsterdam, M adrid, New York, 
Ljubljana, and countless railway stations in between— the social networks began 
to self-organize to launch a new type of discourse for probing the space of the 
media networks, carving out niches for mixed modes of autonomous living and 
working. The list grew from 20 to 30 and to 100, 300, on to 850 subscribers as of 
November 1998. Not a whole lot, now that the internet hits the final curve on the 


way to mass-medium status, but Nettime never really cared about numbers. 
Nettime isn't mucli concerned witfi tiie mass distribution of a product. It's more 
about the self-organization of a process. We tentatively call the process "collab- 
orative text filtering." Who are we? Who isNettime? A saloon? Journal? Bulletin 
board? Billboard? Web archive? Community? System? Soapbox? Warehouse? 
Parasite? Real-time oral history? Spittoon? Bitbucl<et? 0 pen-mil<e night? A small 
world after all? A splintery glory hole? A modest means of self-promotion? A 
dead weight oppressing fresh blood? Netcrit chicken hawks? An invisible dicta- 
torship? A typing pool? All of those and more. It's a collective subjectivity with 
no fixed identity, made up of the people who come and go from the N ettime list, 
who contribute more or less to its characteristic ideas and expressions. Nettime is 
always different from what it was a moment ago; it's always discovering some- 
thing new about itself. As such, it is a working implementation of what subjec- 
tivity might become in an online environment. T hen again, some or many of the 
participants whose ideas form parts of Nettime will almost certainly dispute this 
N ettime is made up of the differences between the ideas as to what it is or might 
become. Send a message to the majordomo software that runs the Nettime list 
and it will promptly respond with thisvery out-of-date message in reply: "Nettime 
is not only a mailing list, but an attempt to formulate an international, networked 
discourse, that is neither promoting the dominant euphoria (in order to sell some 
product), nor to continue with the cynical pessimism, spread by journalists and 
intellectuals working in the 'old' media, who can still make general statements 
without any deeper knowledge on the specific communication aspects of the so- 
called 'new' media. We intend to bring out books, readers and floppies and web 
sites in various languages, so that the 'immanent' net critique will not only circu- 
late within the internet, but can also be read by people who are not on-line" Geert 

Lovink, Pit SchultZ, 27th February, 1996 Another version of this trajectory 
might go like this: Once upon a time there uias a rather tired and ail- 
ing political agenda called leftism. It had some fixed ideas in its 
collective head about the media, about the arts, about theory and prac- 
tice. It got itself stuck in academic ways of thinking sometimes, and 
other times it snorted too much art. The mash of papers on the tables, 
the lives of the people around them and the emails going between them 
pointed toward something else. The purpose of the undertaking, was "net 
critique," a species of radical pragmatism (or perhaps of pragmatic 
radicalism) for working late and deep in the "information age." This 
type of critique would seek-in a way that is by no means necessarily 
an innovation— involvement at the root level rather than getting stuck 
in endless repetitions of formal introductions and quack diagnoses. The 


theories of the media the leftism relied upon were the product of a certain kind 
of history, with political, cultural, intellectual, and technological dimensions Net 
critique aimed to rethink the legacy of leftist media theory and practice. N ettime 
was a vector for experimenting with net critique that would confront it with the 
possibility of inventing new forms of discourse and dialogue in a new medium. 
Consensus is not the goal. There's no governing fantasy according to which the 
differences within this "group" will on sonne ever-deferred day be resolved. The 
differences are Nettime; they nnight be dialectical, innplying each other, or they 
might be differential, making absolutely no reference whatsoever to each others' 
terms. Net critique, if understood asa shared practice in and against a never pre- 
defined techno-local environment, contains many modes of possible participa- 
tion. Conventional cultural criticism, as an academic discipline, contains no 
imperative to actually do anything beyond the continuation of polite footnoted 
complaint. Nevertheless, libraries contain sources of knowledge that can be 
newly selected and contextual ized to gain momentum. Nettime will always con- 
tain the writings of genuine insects trapped in the amber of their own writing- 
habit, but it is also very much about the examination and development of other 
bugs in the system. One discovery is that the relatively closed system of a mod- 
erated mailing list can be a good environment for developing a rich set of ideas. 
It is a certain kind of milieu, a plane upon which certain kinds of work flourishes. 
The best moments on Nettime are perhaps those when contributors cultivate and 
differentiate their language and internal reference system without becoming com- 
pletely obscure. T he discursive interactions on N ettime appear as a fluid process 
that can't be simulated or staged. T he list is a milieu that encourages a certain 
radicalism of approach: miscellaneous ex-East going on ex-West ancien-regime 
misfits turned NGO -perfect-fits, fun-guerrilla playgirls, connected autonomists, 
entrepreneurial molto-hippies, squatters turned digital imperialists, postcynical 
berks, slacktivists and wackademics, minimalist elitist subtechnodrifters, name- 
your-cause party people, name-your-price statists, can-do cyberindividualists, 
can't-won't workers, accredited weird-scientists, and assorted other theoretical 
and practical avant-gardeners, senders, receivers, and orphans, over the years, 

Nettime has mutated, survived, and escaped its Oedipal relations to 
leftism by oozing along neui vectors. Nettime always distanced itself, 
sometimes dialectical ly, sometimes absolutely, from the "cyberhype" 
propagated by Wired magazine, which in any case exhausted itself and 
declined intellectually. Neither the emergency rhetorics of the old 
militants about the threat of the internet, not the technoboosting of 
the military-entertainment complex appeared, in the end, to be all that 
intellectually interesting. As Nettime continually suggests, the ac- 


tion is elseuihere. Instead, Nettime has created a milieu in which a collective 
process of thinking, or sometimes just a collective migraine, could pose again 
some questions of itself and to itself. W hat is actual? W hat is possible? W hat can 
we hope for? What seemed important was to maintain of a milieu that enabled 
a certain continuity and reliable instability. Full-time, or even part-time, Nettime 
requires a certain intellectual modesty. It avoided the sillier behavior of the net's 
"teen years"— flamewars, axe-grinding, and the spiraling noise of chat— through 
light moderation semidemocratized (or at least randomized) by a rotating group. 
It's hardly the first list to work through issues of openness and closure, democra- 
cy and justice, free speech and fair speech; but it doesn't seem as though most 
participants have fetishized these issues. Since its early days as a parasite event 
on various art festivals, Nettime has thrived as a mixed economy It isn't a com- 
mercial project, although its participants certainly have mixed motives for con- 
tributing, and those motives don't at all exclude gain. Various kinds of economy 
sustain it, and thishybridity may be a contributing factor to its sustainable auton- 
omy T he way to avoid capture by the state or the market is to be neither one 
thing nor the other. N ot every kind of difference can be accommodated directly 
within Nettime. Projects dip in and split off. Cyberfeminism logs in and logs out, a 
sometimes parallel, sometimes intersecting project. Ideas, concepts, experi- 
ences are given away in large quantities and uncertain results. Rarely new, 
sometimes stolen, and often borrowed, ideas, concepts, and experiences are 
given away in large quantities, with uncertain results. Some fall on deaf ears and 
spark no reaction whatsoever; others drift off into other channels, and disappear 
from the radar for a while, to return morphed as something else; still others pro- 
voke heated debates, some of which have been quickly quoted in the mass media 
as "the voice of the net." But the voice of the net isa silly idea: it has much more 
to do with broadcasters' need to represent than with what is represented. T he 
N ettime project moves in the opposite direction: not a voice, but voicings, less a 
melody than a sound. Net Critique isn't dogmatic— it can't be, because it isn't 
even a synthetic set of ideas, let alone a twelve-step program for instant cyber- 
culture. Rather, it's a series of interventions, some theoretical, some aesthetic, 
some technical, even some with a soldering iron— a network of ideas-in-process. 

As a topology, the Nettime network is a mix of a ring and a star— it's 
hybrid in many uiays. Open and closed, academic and nonacademic, bits 
and atoms, theory and practice. Most Nettime subscribers are in Europe. 
In the U.S., Nettime is stronger in Neiu Vork than on the West Coast. 
There are also many active subscribers in Australia. Asia is coming on 
line, and subscribers from Japan, Taiuuan, India, even China are drop- 
ping in. T here is a different style in using language online, which has mostly to 


do with the fact that English isn't the native language of many subscribers 
English becomes Englishes, and different norms for writing it rub against each 
other. A plural standard, emerges where nonnative Englishes are recognized as 
valid and coherent standards of English, rather than a hierarchical one, where 
native E nglish is assumed superior to other variants. One hope early on was that 
Nettime could help to shift media theory and practice into a new communication 
vectors, to see how they might perform itself differently in a different spaces. Part 
of the purpose of this book is to shift some of the results of that experiment back 
into the vector of print media, to see how these efforts looks when re-imagined at 
a different speed. The practices of collaborative filtering developed on Nettime 
became the basis for a practice of editing and publishing. This book was pro- 
duced as a collaborative process, by people working on different continents, in 
different time zones, at different intensities It documents the process not just of 
Nettime but of net critique applied to itself. It follows the twists and folds in the 
information landscape as it is being created, discovering that things which were 
remote have suddenly become strange neighbors This is what a bottom-up, 
international, networked discourse might look like, a book of Nettime might 

seem retrograde. Between old and neuu media, it cultivates a zone of 
fertile textual ity uuhich can take the form of a book, a xerox publi- 
cation, a private collection of printouts, or an electronic archive of 
Nettime emails. Vectors of different texts intersect at surprising 
places. Different aggregates of e texts, interviews, announcements, 
essays, replies, commentaries, reports, calls, letter, letters, lists, 
poems, ascii art, articles, reviews, manifestoes, sermons, have been 
cut and remixed. The joy of text finally results in an eclectic blend 
of the elements of discourse and dialogue. Social intensities find a 
common platform, to differentiate, articulate into an alchemy of 
desires. Giving away time spent on the net and into text, it becomes 
a collective source of social, immaterial labor, a "text mine," as well 
and a source of elements for new ideas. T hlS bOOk IS the transformation Of 

Nettime as a time-space into a different level, where the relative fixity of print 
allows one (or many) to measure time in months and years rather than the min- 
utes and hours of the net. W hat this book is not is an adequate representation of 
Nettime. Some of the authors included have never participated Nettime. Some 
are dead. They belong to Nettime because they provide important reference 
points historical depth, and continuity Nettime still has centers and peripheries. 
It has not solved the structural inequality of global information flows, nor could it. 
But it is at least a space that tries to learn through experiment how to overcome 
the imperial past of the architecture of global media vectors. Part of the impetus 


for Nettime was the desire, after 1989, to create a milieu for that could pass 
between Eastern and Western Europe, and to some extent, as this book shows, 
that process has produced results. Nettime is part of the practice of realizing the 
potential of the net as a means of communicating otherwise. Nettime has often 
been accused of being a white Eurocentric boys' club. And so it is, to a certain 
degree. But this perception is superficial. It is certainly beyond even Nettime's 
pragmatic Utopian capability to solve all problems of difference and representa- 
tion. Nettime's open structure encourages participation and a variety of voices, 
expressions, lines of flight. Whoever wants to do the work and share in the joys 
of text can simply join in. The male culture of scientific-, business-, and military- 
based structures and biases built into communications technology is daunting 
and alien to many people from different cultural, racial, and class sectors. The 
kind of intellectual and critical text-based virtual communication represented by 
N ettime may be wholly unsatisfying and irrelevant to many whose voices we need 
to hear. Even women with full online access, good educations, and excellent 
English writing skills, can find Nettime a difficult forum to crack. Yet Nettime has 
made a strong effort to include and address cyberfeminist issues and texts. The 
Nettime editorial group has strong feminist representation and this is reflected in 
the quality and variety of texts by women included in the book, as well as in texts 
from other cultural constituencies which deal with issues of difference, work, net 
politics, access, and the stmggle against discrimination of all kinds. Nettime will 
never be politically correct; to practice its process it will travel along vectors, 
desires, political liquidities, inventive interventions— rich texts of all kinds. READ 
M E! is structured into several sections which represent some of the major whirls 
in the text flows of Nettime. Software examines the tools with which we build our 
media environments, not all of them are computer-based. Markets is a collection 
of theory and experiences of living in and out of the grip of this ambiguous and 
poorly understood beast. Work presents new theoretical approaches to know- 
ledge production and some tales from the shady underbelly of the brave new 
world of the knowledge workers. Art presents reflections on art and what it licens- 
es going on and through the net. Local samples the diversity of living realities, of 
struggles that are carried out in specific places along trajectories that are influ- 
enced as much by local history as they are by global media. Neighbors presents 
other lists, some of which overlap, some of which are friendly. Sound examines 
the acoustic properties and potentials of the net. Subjects ranges across the 
translucent landscapes of overlaid histories. Maze is a collection of third-person 
eat-em-ups for first- person thinkers. Virus is where critique finally gives up, kick- 
ing off its boots into pure invention. 





DATE: MON, 12 XT 1998 10:23:03 +0100 

Omnia memecum porto. In plain English: Everything that I've written and pub- 
lished in the last eighteen months is kept in a bag. T he bag was stolen recent- 
ly from a car parl<ed outside a Paris hotel. It was found again in a nearby 
street with the contents intact. T he thief found no value in them. A discard- 
ed literary judgment. 

T he bag can be seen as a part of my memory. W hoever reads the papers it 
contains and the way they are ordered will recognize me, in a limited though 
intense way I intend hereto examine and analyze the bag Not as if I myself 
were interesting but because the thief, if he had inspected the contents more 
carefully would have found himself in the company of historians, archeolo- 
gists, paleontologists, psychoanalysts, and similar researchers 
What is at issue here is a yellow leather bag equipped with a zipper. It con- 
tains different colored folders. 0 ne contains my correspondence from June 
1972 until now, including copies of my letters and letters addressed to me 
Some of my letters have remained unanswered, and some of those that I 
have received I have never replied to. T he letters are ordered chronological- 
ly. Another folder is titled: "unpublished papers" It contains about thirty 
essays in Portuguese, English, or German concerning art criticism and phe- 
nomenology the originals of which were sent to newspapers These papers 
areunordered. Another folder istitled "published papers" It contains about 
ten essays published during my stay in Europe They are arranged according 
to their date published. A further folder istitled "La Force du Quotidian" and 
contains a book manuscript— fifteen essays about things in our environ- 
ment— it will be released in December in Paris Another istitled "Ca exists la 
Nature?" and contains eight essays Both folders are arranged according to 
their content. A further istitled "New York" and contains outlines for a lec- 
ture about the future of television that I plan to hold next year at the 
M useum of M odern Art. Another istitled "R io" and contains essays that my 
publisher in Rio de Janeiro will bring out soon. Another istitled "Talks" and 
contains outlines for lectures that I have held and will hold in Europe. T hey 
are not ordered. Another is titled "Bodenlosigkeit" and contains a hundred 
pages of an autobiography that I began and never completed. Another is 
titled "Biennal" and contains references to the "XII Bienal des Arts" in Sao 
Paulo. The last has thetitle"Documentatos" and contains "self-referential" cer- 
tificates from government offices universities and other institutions T his is 
then the semantic and syntactical dimension of the bag 
T he folders are firstly arranged syntactically. T hey are arranged in three classes: 


(A) D iaiogues (the correspondence folder) 

(B) D iscourses to others (lectures and manuscripts) 

(C ) D iscourses about myself (documents) 

The first class would have given the thief a view Into the structure of my 
relationships with others, what connects me to them, who rejects me, and 
who I reject. T he second class would have allowed the thief to see me from 
"within," and how I try to make myself public. T he third class would have 
allowed him to see me In the way the establishment does, my mask, via which 
I play my public role. 

T he knowledge that the thief thus gains would be problematic for the fol- 
lowing reasons: (1) T he authenticity of the papers would need to be checked 
(2) The authenticity of the documents contained therein would have to be 
checked. T he thief would be required to make a close reading of the texts 
and of their contexts T he folders are also arranged semantically. 
Again they are arranged into three classes: 

(A) Factual information (documents, sections of letters, lectures, 
and manuscripts). 

(B) I nterpretations of facts (lectures and manuscripts) 

(C ) Expressions of emotion and value (letters, and beneath the sur- 
face in most manuscripts). 

The first class would have offered the thief a view into my "objective-being- 
In-the-world." The second the way In which I maintain a distance therefrom. 
T he third a view of my "subjective and intersubjective-belng-ln-the-world." 
From this he might have held the keys to the subjective and objective posi- 
tion we find ourselves In. All this, of course, cautiously The facts could be 
misunderstood or misinterpreted, and the emotions and values expressed 
dishonestly as much by me as by others T he thief would have to "decode" 
and "de-ldeologize" the messages contained In the bag 
T he folders are also arranged structurally. Again there are three classes: 

(A) Chronological arrangement 

(B) Logical arrangement 

(C) Disorder. 

The first structure puts us In mind of geological and botanical formations 
T he second of encyclopedia and computers T he third of genetic Informa- 
tion. Together they reveal a picture of the structure of the human memory 
What Is missing however Is a "formal structure" of the kind found In "alpha- 
betical arrangement." Without this the thief might have concluded a defect 
in my way of thinking T he Interaction of the ordered and disordered struc- 
tures In the bag would have given the thief the opportunity to contribute to 
jaques M onods problem "coincidence and necessity." The bag Is a fertile 
hunting ground for "structural analysis" 

Finally the folders are arranged according to their relationship to the bag 
Itself Two classes result: 


(A) Folders that are in the bag so that they can be kept in mind. 

(B) Folders that are there to keep things that are not there in mind. 

T he letters, manuscripts, and essays belong to the first class, the unfinished 
autobiography to the second. This reveals two functions of the bag(and of 
memory): to l<eep things in the present and to bring things into the present. 
T he real situation is nevertheless much more complex. Some papers in the 
bag point to the future (the "N ew York" folder and the unpublished manu- 
script); thus proving the function of memory namely to construct designs for 
the future. The thief could have recognized all of this Not, however, this: 
T his article itself which the reader has before him is found in the bag in the 
folder titled "published papers" T he article is not only concerned with the 
bag, it is not just a "metabag" but a part that the thief could not have stud- 
ied. T he thief could never have recognized this aspect of the bag 
I always carry the bag with me. We all do this only my bag is more readily 
available. The question is: can our bags be stolen from us? Or would th^ 
always be found again a few blocks away intact? Put differently; firstly: are 
we lighter and therefore progress more quickly into the future when our bags 
are lifted from us? And secondly; are these living or dead weights in our 
bags? T he bag is too complicated to give a satisfactory answer to these ques- 
tions I n any case it's good that from now on the questions themselves are 
kept safely in the bag. 

[T his text dates from 1972; it first in appeared in Nachgeschichten (Diisseldorf: 
Bollmann, 1990). Translated from German (1998) by M ichael Stapl^.] 



DATE: TUE, 29 SEP 1998 16:15:07 +0200 

We use them daily and don't know what we're doing We don't know who 
operates them or why don't know how they're structured, and little about the 
way they function. It's a classic case of the black box— and all the same, 
we're abjectly grateful for their existence. 

Where, after all, would we be without them? N ow that the expanse of web 
offerings has proliferated into the immeasurable, isn't anything that facili- 
tates access useful? After all, instantly available information is one of the fun- 
damental Utopias of the data universe. 

Nevertheless, I think the engines are worth some consideration, and propose 
research should concentrate on the following points First, the specific impe- 
tus of blindness that determines our handling of these engines Second, the 


conspicuously central, even "powerful" position tlie engines meanwiiiie 
occupy on the net— and this question is relevant if one wants to forecast the 
medium's development trends Third, I am interested in the structural 
assumptions on which the various search engines are based. Fourth, and 
finally a reference to language and linguistic theory that shifts the engines 
into a new perspective and a different line of tradition. 


T he main reason search engines occupy a central position on the net is that 
the^ are started infinitely often; in the case of Altavista, accessed 32 million 
times per worl<day if the published statistics can be trusted. Individual users 
see the entry of a search command as nothing more than a launching pad to 
get something else, but to have attracted so many users to a single address 
signifies a great success T he direct economic consequence is that these con- 
tacts can be sold, making the search engineseminently suitable for the place- 
ment of advertising and therefore among the few net businesses that are in 
fact profitable. With remarl<able openness, Yahoo writes: "Yahoo! also 
announced that its registered user base grew to more than 18 million mem- 
bers., reflecting the number of people who have submitted personal data for 
Yahool's universal registration process.... 'We continued to build on the 
strong distribution platform we deliver to advertisers, merchants, and con- 
tent providers'" 

Second, and even more important, the frequency of access means the over- 
all net architecture has undergone considerable rearrangement. T hirty-two 
million users per day signify a thrust in the direction of centralization. T his 
should put on the alert all those who recently emphasized thedecentral, anti- 
hierarchic character of the net, and link its universal accessibility with far- 
reaching hopes for basis democracy 

All the same— and that brings me to my second point— this centralization is 
not experienced as such. The search engines can occupy such a central posi- 
tion only because they are assumed to be neutral in a certain way Offering 
a service as opposed to content, they appear as neutral mediators Is the 
mediator in fact neutral? 


The question must be addressed first of all to the design of the search 
engines Steve Steinberg, my main source for the factual information in the 
following text, described the things normal users don't know about the 
search engines and, even more important, what they think they don't need 
to know in order to use them expediently ("Seek and Ye Shall Find (M aybe)," 
W iraJ 4.05 [M ay 1996], 108ff.). Steinberg'sfirst finding is that providers keep 
secret the exact algorithm on which their functioning is based (ibid., 175). 
Since the companies in question are private enterprises and the algorithms 
are part of their productive assets, the competition has, above all, to be kept 
at a distance; only very general information is disclosed to the public, the 
details remain in the dark of the black box. So if we operate the search 
engines with relative blindness, there are good economic reasons for this 
Three basic types of search engine can be distinguished. The first type is 


based on a system of predefined and hierarchically ordered l<eywords 
Yahoo, for instance, employs human coders to assign new websites to the cat- 
egories; the networl< addresses are delivered by email messages or hunted 
down by a search program known as a spider. In 1996, the company regis- 
tered 200,000 web documents in this way 

T he above figure alone indicates that coding through human experts is quicl< 
to meet its quantitative limitations 0 f the estimated total volume of 30-50 
million documents available on the net in 1996 (ibid., 113), Yahoo was offer- 
ing some 0.4 percent; current estimates suggest that the total volume has 
meanwhile grown to 320 million websites 

H owever, the problems of the classification system itself are even more seri- 
ous T he twenty thousand keywords chosen by Yahoo are known in-house 
(with restrained self-irony?) as "the ontology" But what or who would be in 
a position to guarantee the uniformity and inner coherence of such a hier- 
archy of terms If pollution, for example, is listed under "Society and 
Culture"/ "Environment and Nature"/ "Pollution", then the logic can be 
accepted to some degree, but every complicated case will lead to classifica- 
tory conflicts that can no longer be solved even by supplementary cross-ref- 

T he construction of the hierarchy appears as a rather hybrid project, but its 
aim is to harness to a uniform system of categories millions of completely 
heterogenous contributions from virtually every area of human knowledge. 
Without regard to their perspectivity, their contradictions and rivalries 
Yahoo's "ontology" is thus the encumbered heir of those real ontologies 
whose recurrent failure can be traced throughout the history of philosophy 
And the utilitarian context alone explains why the philosophical problem in 
new guise failed to be identified, and has been re-installed yet again with 
supreme naivete. If the worst comes to the worst, you don't find what you're 
looking for— that the damage is limited is what separates Yahoo from prob- 
lems of philosophy 

T he second type of search engine manages without a predefined classifica- 
tion system and, even more important, without human coders Systems like 
AltaVista, Inktomi, or Lycos generate an "inverted index" by analyzing the 
texts located. T he search method employed is the full-text variant, word for 
word, meaning that in the end every single term used in the original text is 
contained in the index and available as a search word. T his is less technical- 
ly demanding than it might appear For every text analyzed, a row is created 
in a huge cross-connected table, while the columns represent the general 
vocabulary; if a word is used in the text, a bit is set to "yes," or the number 
of usages is noted. An abstract copy of the text is made in this way, con- 
densed to roughly 4 percent of its original size. The search inquiries now 
only make use of the table. 

Since the system is fully automatic, the AltaVista spider can evaluate 6 mil- 
lion net documents every day At present, some 125 million texts are repre- 
sented in the system. 

T he results of a search are, in fact, impressive AltaVista delivers extremely 
useful hit lists ordered according to an internal priority system. And those 


who found what they were looking for are unlikely to be offended by the fact 
that AltaVista too keeps its algorithm under wraps 
T here are some problems nevertheless. It is conspicuous that even slight vari- 
ations in the query produce wholly different feedback; if you try out various 
queries for a document you already know, you will notice that one and the 
same document is sometimes displayed with high priority sometimes with 
lower priority, and sometimes not at all. T his is irritating, to say the least. 
T he consequence, in general terms, is that often one does not know how to 
judge the result of a search objectively— it remains unclear which documents 
the system does not supply because either the spider has failed to locate them 
or because the evaluation algorithm does indeed work otherwise than pre- 
sumed. Even if the program boastfully claims to be "searching the web," the 
singular form of the noun is illusory of course, if you consider the fact that 
even 125 million texts are only a specific section of the overall expanse. 
Furthermore, users for their part can register only the first 10, 50 or, at most, 
100 entries T hey too scarcely have the possibility of estimating how thissec- 
tion relates to the rest of the expanse in terms of content. 
The second and main problem is however present already in the basic 
assumption. A mechanical keyword search presupposes that only such ques- 
tions will be posed as are able to be clearly formulated in words, and differ- 
entiated and substantiated through further keywords Similarly nobody will 
expect that the system is able to include concepts of similar meaning along- 
side the query or can exclude homonyms Search engines of this type are 
wholly insensible to questions of semantics or, to make it more clear: their 
very point is to exclude semantic problems of the type evident with Yahoo. 
Yet that is not to say that the problems themselves are eradicated. T hey are 
imposed on the users through the burden of having to reduce their questions 
to unambiguous strings of significants, of having to be satisfied with the 
mechanically selected result. All questions unable to be reduced to keywords 
fall through the screen of the feasible Technical and scientific termini are 
relatively suitable for such a search, humanistic subjects are less suitable, and 
once again this emerges as that "soft"— all too soft— sphere that should be 
circumvented from the outset, if one is unwilling to fall into the abyss. 
But the problem of semantics has not been ignored, and efforts in this direc- 
tion have led to the third type of search engine. Systems like Excite by 
Architext, or "Smart," claim to search no longer mechanically with stringsof 
significants, but on the basis of a factual semantic model. I n order to be able 
to discriminate between articles on oil films and ones on cinema films, such 
programs examine the context in which the respective concepts figure 
"T he idea is to take the inverted index of the Web, with its rows of docu- 
ments and columns of keywords, and compress it so that documents with 
roughly similar profiles are clustered together— even if one uses the word 
'movie' and one uses 'film'— because they have many other words in com- 
mon" (Steinberg, 175). T he result is a matrix where the columns now repre- 
sent concepts instead of mechanical keywords T he exciting thing about this 
type of engine is that it progresses from mechanical keywords to content- 
related concepts; and also that it obtains its categories solely on the basis of 
the entered texts, of a statistical evaluation of the documents 


[The engine] learns about subject categories from ttie bottom up, instead of 
imposing an order from ttie top down. It is a self-organizing system.... To come 
up with subject categories, Architext mal<es only one assumption: words that fre- 
quently occur together are somehow related. As the corpus changes— as new 
connections emerge between, say 0. J . Simpson and murder— the classification 
scheme automatically adjusts. The subject categories reflect the text itself"; "this 
eliminates two of the biggest criticisms of library classification: that every 
scheme has a point of view, and that every scheme will be constantly struggling 
against obsolescence. (Ibid.) 

0 ther designs, such as the C ontext system by 0 racle, attempt to incorpo- 
rate analyzes of the syntax, and by doing so find themselves in the minefield 
of how to model natural language— a problem that has been worked upon 
in the field of A I since the sixties, without convincing results having been 
produced so far. T he evaluation of such systems is more than difficult; and 
it is even more difficult to make forecasts about the possible chances of 

For that reason, I would like to shift the focus of the question from the pre- 
sented systems' mode of function and their implications and limitations to 
the sociocultural question of what their meaning is, what their actual project 
is in the concurrence of discourses and media. 


T he path from the hierarchic ontologies over the keyword search and on to 
the semantic systems shows, in fact, that it is a matter of a very fundamental 
question beyond the pragmatic usage processes. T he search engines are not 
a random "tool" that supplements the presented texts and facilitates their 
handling. 0 n the contrary, they appear as a systematic counterpart on which 
the texts are reliant in the sense of a reciprocal and systematic interrelation. 
My assertion is that the search engines occupy exactly that position 
which— in the case of non-machine-mediated communication— can be 
claimed by the system of language. (And that is the main reason why search 
engines interest me) 

Language, as Saussure clearly showed, breaks down into two modes of 
being, two aggregate states Opposite the linear, materialized texts in the 
external world— utterances speech events written matter— exists the 
semantic system that, as a knowledge, as a language competence, has its spa- 
tially distributed seat in the minds of the language users M indsand texts are 
therefore always opposite each other. 

If access to the data network is now organized over systems based on vocab- 
ulary and if these systems are being advanced in the direction of semanti- 
cally qualifying machines then this means that language itself, the semantic 
system, the lexicon, is to be liberated from the minds and technically imple- 
mented in the external world. In other words notjust the texts are to be filed 
in the computerized networks but the entire linguistic system. The search 
engines with all their flaws and contradictions are a kind of advance pay- 
ment on this project. 

Search engines then, represent language in the network. And this has com- 


Napoleon and Hitler obviously both 
lost their wars, although they had 
different ways of organizing science 
and research. The text is in no way a 
monocausal explanation why Ger- 
many lost the war. But it is clearly 
writing against the myth of the effi- 
cient German organization of war 
technology, science, and economy 
This myth is not more convincing, 
because of rivalries and problems of 
defining different realms of compe- 
tence within the state apparatus. In 
Gemiany there was no organization 
possible like it was In Bletchley Park, 
Bell Labs, or other Allied powers 

Please pay attention to Godel— Mr 
Why?— because he had a unique 
way of dealing with mathematics 
and philosophy apart from strategic 
state or economic organizations. He 
had problems with staff in general— 
with one or more Captain Singhs; he 
concentrated on combining his cri- 
tique of closed formal systems with 
his desire to establish a platonic 
foundation for the mathematical uni- 
verse. It was J . Robert Oppen- 
helmer— may be a Captain Singh but 
definitely the director of the Institute 
for Advanced Studies at Princeton- 
saying: "Believe It or not doctor, but 
there is the greatest logician since 
the days of Aristotle." Godel refused 
to undergo surgery and died as a 
result; was this a refusal to be relat- 
ed to Aristotle? But please let me 
know more about the legendary pas- 
senger liner "Nancow-ry" 
— Ex Karanja, of the P&O, B! Lin. 
[Nils Roeller <nils@khm.unl-Koeln^ 
.de>,Godel and Captain, Fri, 11 J ul 
1997 12:23:25 -fOBOO] 

pletely changed the emphasis. T he engines face the texts not as additional 
tools but as the "actual" structure that the texts merely serve; a machine for 
opening up, but at the same time a condensation that represents the body of 
texts as a whole. 

T he conjecture that it is a matter of the language admits a new perspective 
on the internal organization of search engines And it becomes clear that 
engines have prominent predecessors in the history of l<nowledge and his- 
torical notions of language. 

It is difficult not to see in the hierarchically composed structure of the Yahoo 
pyramid of concepts those medieval models of the world described for us by 
writers such as Bolzoni in her history of mnemonics (L. Bolzoni, "T he Play 
of Images," in P. Corsi, ed., T heEnchanteJ Loom, NY: Oxford, 1991, 16-65). 
A large fourteenth-century panel shows the figure of Jesus in the center of 
the tree of life, whose branches and leaves all contain stations in his earthly 
existence, his path to the Cross and his transfiguration. A second picture, this 
time from the thirteenth century shows a horse-mounted knight who is rid- 
ing, sword drawn, toward the Seven Deadly Sins, which are divided up into 
a scheme of fields branching of step-by-step into the infinite diversity of the 
individual sins (ibid., 27-29). Bolzoni explains that such schemes initially 
served didactic mnemonic purposes; order and visualization made it easier 
to note the complex connections But their actual meaning goes further. The 
implicit ambition of these systems was to bring the things of the world into 
a consistent scheme, namely into a necessarily hierarchic scheme that no less 
necessarily culminated in the concept of G od. 0 nly the concept of G od was 
capable of including all other concepts and furnishing a stable center for the 
pyramidal order. T he linguistic structure (the cathedral of concepts) and the 
architecture of knowledge were superimposed over each other in this "order 
of things" This metaphysical notion of language has become largely alien 
to us today But is it really alien? 

As far as Yahoo's surface is concerned, if you will permit the abrupt return 
to my subject, it manages without an organizing center. The user faces four- 
teen, not one, central categories from which the subcategories branch off 
T hus, the pyramid has lost its tip. 0 r would it be more appropriate to ask 
what has taken G od's place? 

In a model of the world created by Robert Fludd, an English encyclopedist 
of the Renaissance, God had already abandoned the center position 
("IntegraeNaturae speculum artisqueimago" [1617], British Library). Retained has 
been a system of strictly concentric rings that contains the things of the 
world, encompassing a range from minerals to the plants and animals of 
nature up to the human arts and finally the planetary spheres T he center is 
occupied by a schematic diagram of the earth, a forerunner of that blue ball 
the astronauts radio-relayed to earth. T he representation looks like a man- 
dala in which viewerscan absorb themselvesin order to take up contact with 
a cosmic whole. The new, secularized solution becomes even more distinct in 
the memory theater of the Italian Camillo, which, frequently discussed in 
the meantime, itself belongs to the history of technical media. At the begin- 


ning of the sixteenth century, Camillo built a wooden construction resem- 
bling a small, round theater (see, for example, F. A. Yates, Gedachtnis und 
Erinnern, Weinheim 1991, 123ff.). Those who ventured inside were con- 
fronted by a panel of 7 x 7 pictures Camillo had commissioned from highly 
respected painters of the period. The horizontal division corresponded to 
the seven planetary spheres, the vertical division to seven stages of develop- 
ment from the first principles up to the elements, to the natural world, to the 
human being, to the arts and, finally the sciences In this way every field in 
the matrix represented a certain aspect of the cosmos The images were 
merely there to convey the general picture, whereas behind them were com- 
partments with the texts written by the great writers and philosophers Itwas 
in these compartments, then, that the user looked for sources, concepts and 
further information. To this extent, the whole thing was a system of access, 
and the analogy with search engines becomes evident in the clear separation 
between the access to the texts and the texts themselves. 
Camillo's theater has finally brought the human being, the viewer, into the 
center of the construction. T he surface of the images is oriented to his view, 
and solely the beholder's perspective joins up the forty-nine fields in the 
matrix. Exactly that appears to me to be the logic on which Yahoo is based. 
T he very lack of the pinnacle in the pyramid of concepts defines the posi- 
tion taken by the user. Like in the optical system of the central perspective, 
the "royal overlooking position" is reserved for the user/ beholder. 
Yahoo is indeed an "ontology"; but not because Yahoo and likewise ontolo- 
gies are arbitrary It is more because they keep things in their place, and 
define for the user a position relative to this place. Its ontology offers an 
ordered world. And anything threatening to be lost in the chaotic variety of 
available texts can take one final respite in the order of the search engine. 
T he solution, however, is historically outdated, and has been abandoned in 
the history of philosophy Because any positively defined hierarchy of con- 
cepts is perspectival and arbitrary it soon revealsthose points of friction that 
represent the beginning of its end. Does this make the solution of the k^- 
word- or semantics-based engines more modern? 
It must indeed appear to be so at first glance T he strategy of making the 
search words dependent on the empirically collected content of the network 
documents— the texts— imitates the mechanism of language itself. Or the 
mechanism, to be more precise, by which language arrives at its concepts 
Linguistic theory tells us that the synchronous system of language is creat- 
ed through the accumulation and condensation of an infinite multitude of 
concrete utterances. T he place where condensation takes place is the lan- 
guage user's memory where the concrete utterances are submerged; linear 
texts are obliviated into the structure of our language capability; on the 
basis of concrete texts, this structure is subject to constant modification 
and differentiation. 0 ur faculty of language is an abstract copy of speak- 
ing— speech and language (discourse and system) are systematically cross- 
linked. (For a more detailed analysis, see my book D ocuverse, M unich: Boer, 
1997.) What this means for the isolated concept is that it accumulates 
whatever the tangible contexts provide as meaning. It isn't a one-time act 
of definition that assigns it a place in the semantic system, but the disor- 


derly chain of its usages; concepts stand for and typify contexts, concepts 

encapsulate past contexts 

Tlie semantic searcli engines imitate tliis accumulation by typifying con- 
texts in order to arrive at concepts— in this case the search concepts As 
outlined above, the table of search words is created as a condensed, cumu- 
lated copy of the texts A statistical algorithm draws together comparable 
contexts, typifies them, and assigns them to the search concepts as the 
equivalent of their meaning. 

A system imbued with such dynamism is superior to the rigidly predefined 
systems, even if the statistical algorithm only imperfectly modelsthe mecha- 
nisms of natural language M ore complex, closer to intuition, it is bound to 
offer less centers of friction. So, once again, what's the objection? 


It's important to remember that, despite all the advances made, the actual 
fundamental order has remained constant. Just as in Camillo's wooden the- 
ater, we are dealing not with only two instances— a set of reading/ writ- 
ing/ searching subjects approaching a second set of written texts— but also 
with a third instance, namely a system of access that has placed itself 
between the first two like a grid, or raster 

And if the access system in Camillo's media machine served to breal< down 
the infinite expanse of texts into a manageable number of categories from 
which the position— from a strictly central perspective— was defined for the 
observing subject, then this fundamental order remains intact also. 
T his image mal<es it clear that it is not necessarily better if the raster cannot 
be felt. It's almost the other way round: the less resistance offered by the 
access system, the more neutral, transparent, and weightless it seems, and the 
more plausible appears the suspicion that it cannot be a question of the 
nature of thing, but of a naturalization strategy 
T he raster of categories must purport to be transparent if it does not want to 
rouse the problems that Yahoo rouses To avoid the reproach of being arbi- 
trary and exercising a structuring influence on the contents accessed, the 
raster must instill in the users the impression of being purely a "tool" subject 
only to utility— the l<ey in the customers' hand that opens any Sesame, a 
compliant genie with no ambitions of its own. 

This puts the veil of secrecy cast over the algorithms in a somewhat different 
light. Far more important than the rivalry between different product suppli- 
ers is the wish to actually dispose over a neutral, transparent access 
machine— and this wish is something the mal<ers share with their customers, 
and probably with us all. At the basis of the constellation emerges an illusion 
that organizes the discourse. 

Since there is no such thing as algorithms without their own weight, the 
metadiscourse has to help them out and salvage transparency by means of 
mere assertions I n the usage of the salutary singular ("searching the web"), 
in the way the algorithms are l<ept under wraps, in the emphasis on the per- 
formance as opposed to the limitations that might be more defining, and in 
the routine promises that, thanl<s to Artificial Intelligence, new and even 
more powerful systems are in the pipeline (see, for example, PointCast 


<http://>). In the unawareness and unwillingness to 
l<now on tlie part of tlie customers, and in tlie primacy of a practice tliat 
mostly, in any case, doesn't l<now wliat it's doing. 
Data processing— and one feels almost cynical in bringing up this point- 
was propagated with the ideal of creating a very different type of trans- 
parency The promise was to create only structures that were in principle 
able to be understood— the opposite, in fact, of natural language; to confine 
itself to the structural side of things, but to escribe this in a way that would 
not only admit analysis, but apparently include the latter from the outset. If 
programs have now, as K ittler correctly notes, begun to proliferate lil<e nat- 
ural-language texts, then this is not because the programs (and already even 
the search engines) have been infected by the natural-language texts It is 
because of our need for both: for unlimited complexity and the narcissistic 
pleasure of having an overview, the variety of speaking and the transparen- 
cy with regard to the objects, a language without metaphysical hierarchic 
centering that still maintains its unquestionable coherence. 
T hat our wish is once again doomed to failure is clear from the fact that any 
number of search engines of different design are competing with each other 
in the meantime, and that metasearch engines are now said to be able to 
search through search engines So there we sit on God's deserted throne, 
opposite us the infinite universes of texts in our hands a few glittering, but 
deficient, machines And we feel uneasy. 

[Translated from German by Tom Morrison.] 


DATE: MON, 12 OCT 1998 01:16:59 +0100 

During 1997 and 1998 a series of legal and media confrontations were 
made in the United States and elsewhere. Amongst those involved were 
Microsoft, Netscape, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The kQ^ focus of 
contention was whether M icrosoft, a company that has a near complete 
monopoly on the sale of operating systems for personal computers had— 
by bundling its own web browser, Internet Explorer with every copy of its 
Windows '95/ 98 0 S— effectively blocked N etscape, an ostensible competi- 
tor in browser software, from competing in a "free" market ("ostensible" 
because the nearly identical browsers toegther form if not an economic 
then a technical-aesthetic monopoly). This confrontation ran concurrently 
with one between M icrosoft and Sun M icrosystems developers of the lan- 
guage Java. 

T he "browser wars" involved more than these three relatively tightly con- 
structed and similar actors though. M illions of internet users were impli- 


cated in this conflict. T lie nature of the proprietary software economy meant 
that for any side, winning the browser wars would be a chance to construct 
the ways in which the most popular section of the internet— the world wide 
web— would be used, and to reap the rewards T he conflict took place in a 
U.S. court and was marked by the deadeningly tedious superformalized rit- 
uals that mark the abstraction of important decisions away from those in 
whose name they are made T hough the staging of the conflict was located 
within the legal and juridical framework of the U.S. it had ramifications 
wherever software is used. 

Bloatware — 49% of software features 
are never used, 1 9% rarely used, 1 6% 
sometimes, 13% often, 7% always. 
Size of software is growing, Windows 
went from 3M lines of code (Windows 
3.1) to 14M lines (Windows 95) to 
18M (Windows 98). [Ninfomania 

0 n connecting to aURL,HTML appears to the user's computer as a stream 
of data. This data could be formatted for use in any of a wide variety of con- 
figurations As a current, given mediation by some interpretative device, it 
could even be used as a flowing pattern to determine the behaviour of a 
device completely unrelated to its purpose. (Work it with tags? Every 
<HREF> could switch something on, every <P> could switch something 
off— administration of greater or lesser electric shocks for instance). Most 
commonly it is fed straight into a browser. 

W hat are the conditions that produce this particular sort of reception facili- 
ty? Three fields that are k^ amongst those currently conjoining to form 
what is actualized as the browser: economics, design, and the material. By 
material is meant the propensities of the various languages, protocols, and 
data types of the web. 

If we ask, "What produces and reinforces browsing?" There is no suprise in 
finding the same word being used to describe recreational shopping, rumi- 
nant digestion and the use of the web. T he browser wars form one level of 
consistency in the assembly of various forms of economy on the web. 
Websites are increasingly written for specific softwares, and some elementsof 
them are unreadable by other packages (for example, the 1/ 0/ D "shout" 
HTML tag). You get Netscape sites, Explorer sites, sites that avoid making 
that split and stay at a level that both could use— and therefore consign the 
"innovations" of these programs to irrelevance This situation looks like 
being considerably compounded with the introduction of customizable (and 
hence unusable by web-use software not correctly configured) Extensible 
M arkup Language tags 

What determines the development of this software? Demand? There is no 
means for it to be mobilized. Rather more likely an arms race between on 
the one hand the software companies and the development of passivity, gulli- 
bility, and curiosity as a culture of use of software 
0 ne form of operation on the net that does have a very tight influence— an 
ability to make a classical "demand"— on the development of proprietary 
software for the web isthe growth of online shopping and commercial infor- 
mation delivery. For companies on the web this is not just a question of the 
production and presentation of "content," but a very concrete part of their 
material infrastructure For commerce on the web to operate effectively the 
spatium of potential operations on the web— that is everything that is 
described or made potential by the software and the network— needs to be 
increasingly configured toward this end. 


T hat there are potentially novel forms of economic entity to be invented on 
the web is indisputable. As ever, crime is providing one of the most 
exploratory developers H ow far these potential economic forms guided by 
notions of privacy; pay per use; trans- and supra-nationality; and so on. will 
develop in an economic context in which other actors than technical possi- 
bility, such as the state, monopolies and so on is open to question. H owever, 
one effect of net-commerce is indisputable. Despite the role of web design- 
ers in translating the imperative to buy into a post-rave cultural experience, 
transactions demand contracts and contracts demand fixed, determinable 
relationships The efforts of companies on the web are focused on tying 
down meaning into message delivery While some form of communication 
may occur within thismucal shroud of use-value-put-to-good-use the focal 
point of the communication will always stay intact. Just click here. 

Immaterial labor produces "first and foremost a social relation [that] pro- 
duces not only commodities but also the capital relation" (seeM . Lazzarato, 
"Immaterial Labor," in this volume, and P. Virno, Radical Thought in Italy, 
M inneapolis: M innesota U niversity, 1996, 142). If this mercantile relation- 
ship is also imperative on the immaterial labor being a social and commu- 
nicative one, the position of web designers is perhaps an archetype, not just 
for the misjudged and cannibalistic drive for a "creative economy" current- 
ly underway in Britain, but also within a situation where a (formal) lan- 
guage— HTM L— explicitly rather than implicitly becomes a means of pro- 
duction: at one point vaingloriously touted as "H ow to M ake Loot." 
Web design, considered in its wide definition: by hobbyists artists general 
purpose temps by specialists and also in terms of the creation of websites 
using software such as Pagemill or Dreamweaver, is precisely a social and 
communicative practice, as Lazzarato says "whose 'raw material' is subjec- 
tivity." This subjectivity is an ensemble of preformatted, automated, contin- 
gent and "live" actions schemas and decisions performed by both softwares 
languages and designers This subjectivity is also productive of further 
sequences of seeing, knowing, and doing 

A key device in the production of websites is the page metaphor. This of 
course has its historical roots in the imaginal descriptions of the M emex and 
Xanadu systems— but it has its specific history in that Esperanto for com- 
puter-based documents Structured Generalized M arkup Language (SG M L) 
and in the need for storage, distribution, and retrieval of scientific papers at 
CERN. Use of metaphor within computer interface design is intended to 
enable easy operation of a new system by overlaying it or even confining it 
within the characteristics of a homely futuristic device found outside of the 
computer. A metaphor can take several forms They include emulators 
where say the entire workings of a specific synthesizer are mapped over into 
a computer where it can be used in its "virtual" form. The computer cap- 
tures the set of operations of the synthesizer and now the term emulation 
becomes metaphorical. Allowing other modalities of use and imaginal 
refrain to operate through the machine, the computer now is that synthesiz- 
er—while also doubled into always being more. Metaphors also include 
items such as the familiar "desktop" and "wastebasket." T his is a notorious 


In the one-to-one future, companies 
will do their best to get their hands 
on as much of your original writing 
as they can. They'll subscribe to dis- 
cussion lists, sort through Usenet, 
hang out in chat raoms, and, 
depending on the scruples of your 
internet service provider, scour your 
outgoing email. Survey data is one 
thing. Your own language is another. 
At first, they'll be able learn some- 
thing about you by virtue of where 
you choose to express yourself. 
Then, after they've compiled enough 
of your ASCII, they'll use natural-lan- 
guage-processing technology to 
add tidbits of psychographic data 
on you to their databases. And final- 
ly, when the technology matures, 
they'll be able to start using your 
language and vocabulary patterns 
to sell products back to you in high- 
ly personalized email messages. 
Individual-level statistics could be 
sold to direct marketers, couponers, 
publishers.. .or even health-insur- 
ance companies. In the one-to-one 
future, your insurance premiums 
could be adjusted on a near-real- 
time basis based on your recent 
food-purchase patterns. Buy a steak 
and sour cream, your premium goes 
up. Buy bran cereal and nonfat milk, 
and your premium goes down. And, 
given the appropriate networked 
calendar software, they could even 
schedule you for an appointment 
with your managed-care specialist 
should your purchases of foods with 
high levels of saturated fats reach a 
critical level. In the one-to-one 
future, however, consumers will not 
only have aggregated and personal- 
ized content. They'll have aggregat- 
ed and personalized commerce. But 
in the one-to-one future, personal- 
ization won't be limited to just one 
product category. Instead, con- 
sumers will be able to find an online 
seller who sells a particular lifestyle, 
defined as a mix of products and 
services. The seller, in effect, 
becomes a "commerce editor," pre- 
senting the books, clothes, records, 
movies, shoes, cars, computers, 
electronics, home furnishings and 
personal-care products that define a 
particular lifestyle. The seller will be 
able to deploy a wide variety of 
technologies in order to reach the 
target customer (that is, text, graph- 
ics, audio, video, push, chat, discus- 
sion, and so on) and can create an 
online shopping experience that 
correlates with the customer's per- 
sonal aesthetics, sense of taste and 
desired level of interactivity. In the 
one-to-one future, these thousands 
of online sellers will be able to focus 
on the act of selling— creating and 
maintaining relationships with cus- 
tomers. Meanwhile, the "traditional" 
e-commerce retailers will be able to 
focus on retailing— exploiting their 
economies of scale in sourcing, 
storing, transacting and fulfilling 
product. The one-to one-future will 
not only displace the creators of 
mass culture but also the creators of 
micro culture— fine artists. When 
every piece of infonnation we con- 
sume becomes customized for our 
unique wants and needs, we will 

case of a completely misapplied metaphor. A wastebasket is simply an 
instruction for the deletion of data. Data does not for instancejustsit and rot 
as things do in an actual wastebasket. That's your backup disk. Actual oper- 
ations of the computer are radically obscured by this vision of it as some 
cosy information appliance always seen through therearview mirror of some 
imagined universal. 

T he page metaphor in web design might as well be that of a wastebasket. 
W hile things have gone beyond maintaining and re-articulating the mode of 
address of arcane journals on particle physics the techniques of page layout 
were ported over directly from graphic design for paper. This meant that 
HTML had to be contained as a conduit for channeling direct physical rep- 
resentation— integrity to fonts, spacing, inflections, and so on. T he actuality 
of the networks were thus subordinated to the disciplines of graphic design 
and of graphical user interface simply because of their ability to deal with 
flatness, the screen. (T hough there are conflicts between them based around 
their respective idealizations of functionality). Currently of course this is a 
situation that is already edging toward collapse as other data types make 
incursions onto, through, and beyond the page— but it is a situation that 
needs to be totaled, and done so consciously and speculatively 
Another metaphor is that of geographical references Where do you want to 
go today? T his echo of location is presumably designed to suggest to the user 
that they are not in fact sitting in front of a computer calling up files, but 
hurtling round an earth embedded into a gigantic trademark "N" or "e" 
with the power of some voracious cosmological force. The web is a global 
medium in the approximately the same way that the World Series is a glob- 
al event. With book design papering over the monitor the real processes of 
networks can be left to the experts in computer science.. 

It is the technical opportunity of finding other ways of developing and using 
this stream of data that provides a starting point for 1/0/ D 4: The Web 
Stalker. 1/0/ D is a three-person collective based in London, whose mem- 
bers are Simon Pope, Colin Green, and myself. As an acronym, the name 
stands for everything it is possible for it to stand for. T here are a number of 
threadsthat continue through the group's output. A concern in practice with 
an expanded definition of the techniques/ aesthetics of computer interface 
Speculative approaches to hooking these up to other formations that can be 
characterized as political, literary musical, etc. The production of stand- 
alone publications/ applications that can fit on one high-density disk and are 
distributed without charge over various networks 
The material context of the web for this group is viewed mainly as an oppor- 
tunity rather than as a history As all HTML is received by the computer as 
a stream of data, there is nothing to force adherence to the design instruc- 
tions written into it. T hese instructions are only followed by a device obedi- 
ent to them. 

Once you become unfaithful to page-description, HTML is taken as a 
semantic mark up rather than physical markup language. Its appearance on 
your screen is as dependent upon the interpreting device you use to receive 
it as much as its "original" state The actual "commands" in HTM L become 


loci for the negotiation of other potential behaviours or processes. 
Several possibilities become apparent. This data stream becomes a phase 
space, a realm of possibility outside of the browser. It combines with anoth- 
er: there are thousands of other software devices for using the world wide 
web, waiting in the phase space of code. Since the languages are pre-exist- 
ing, everything that can possibly be said in them, every program that could 
possibly be constructed in them is already inherently pre-existent within 
them. Programming is a question of teasing out the permutations within the 
dimensions of specific languages or their combinations T hat it is never only 
this opens up programming to its true power— that of synthesis 
0 ne thing we are proposing in this context is that one of the most pressing 
political, technical, and aesthetic urgencies of the moment is something that 
subsumes both the modern struggle for the control of production (that is of 
energies), and the putative postmodern struggle for the means of promotion 
(that is of circulation) within the dynamics of something that also goes 
beyond them and that encompasses the political continuum developing 
between the gene and the electron that most radically marks our age: the 
struggle for the means of mutation. 

lose the ability to enjoy, or even tol- 
erate, the singular statement of an 
individual painter, sculptor, photog- 
rapher, or printmaker "If they're not 
going to paint what I like," the con- 
sumer of the future will ask, "why 
should I buy it?" This means that 
artists who intend to support them- 
selves with their work will have to 
adopt market research techniques 
to make sure they're creating works 
that targeted segments of collectors 
will actually enjoy. Alternatively, the 
art market could become solely 
commission-based, where buyers 
work with artists to custom-create a 
piece that fits with their tastes, their 
politics, their personalized color 
scheme. [M . Sippey <msippey@#>, One-to-one Future, 
Mon, 21 Sep 1998 08:02:29 -0700] 

A file is dropped into the unstuffer. T he projector is opened. T he hard drive 
grinds T he screen goes black. T he blacked out screen is a reverse nihilist 

moment. Suddenly everything is there. 

A brief description of the functions of the Web Stalker isnecessary asaform 
of punctuation in this context, but it can of course only really be fully sensed 
by actual use (see <>). Starting from an 
empty plane of color, (black is just the default mode— others are chosen 
using a pop-up menu) the user begins by marqueeing a rectangle Using a 
contextual menu, a function is applied to the box. T he box, a generic object, 
is specialized into one of the following functions For each function put into 
play one or more box is created and specialized 

Crawler: The Crawler is the part of the Web Stalker that actually links to the 
web. It is used to start up and to show the current status of the session. It 
appears as a window containing a bar split into three A dot moving across 
the bar shows what stage the Crawler isat.T he first section of the bar shows 
the progress of the net connection. 0 nee connection is made and a U R L is 
found, the dot jumps to the next section of the bar. The second section dis- 
plays the progress of the Web Stalker as it reads through the found HTML 
document looking for links to other U RLs The third section of the bar mon- 
itors the Web Stalker as it logs all the links that it has found so far. Thus, 
instead of the user being informed that connection to the net is vaguely 
"there" by movement on the geographic TV-style icon in the top right hand 
corner the user has access to specific information about processes and 

M ap: Displays references to individual HTML documents as circles and the 
links from one to another as lines T he U RL of each document can be read 
by clicking on the circle it is represented by Once a web session has been 
started at the first U R L opened by the C rawler, M ap moves through all the 
links from that site, then through the links from those sites, and so on. T he 


"A Kansas City company, Applied 
Micro Technoiogy inc., is about to 
begin seiiing a device for censoring 
language in TV broadcasts (intended 
for the protection of cliiidren}. it 
wori<s only on ciosed-captioned 
broadcasts, if a banned word is 
found in the closed caption, the 
sound is muted and the closed cap- 
tion displayed with a milder word 
substituted. The original design just 
matched on words, causing DICK 
VAN DYKE to turn into JERK VAN 
GAY. This was obviously inadquate, 
so it was extended to recognize con- 
text. The designer. Rick Bray, says 
that it now catches 65 out of 66 
"offensive words" in the movie Men 
in Black (for example), and so he 
now allows his children to see it, and 
so they're pleased with the device." 
[T. Byfield <>, 
Four Allegories, Sat 14 Mar 1998, 
10:51:41 -0500] 

mapping is dynamic— "M ap" is a verb ratlier tlian a noun. 
Dismantle: Tlie Dismantle window is used to work on specific URLs within 
HTML documents URLs at this level will be specific resources such as 
images, email addresses, sound files, downloadable documents, and so on. 
Clicl<ing and dragging a circle into the Dismantle window will display all 
U RLs referenced within theH TM L document you have chosen, again in the 
form of circles and lines 

Stash: The Stash provides a document format that can be used to make 
records of web use. Saved asan H T M L file it can also be read by "browsers" 
and circulated as a separate document. Sitesorfilesare included by dragging 
and dropping URL circles into a Stash. 

HTML Stream: Shows all of the H T M L as it is read by the Web Stalker in 
a separate window. Because as each link is followed by the crawler the 
HTML appears precisely as a stream, the feed from separate sites is effec- 
tively mixed. 

E xtrad:: Dragging a U RL circle into an extract window strips all the text from 
a U RL. It can be read on screen in this way or saved as a text file 
The Web Stalker performs an inextricably technical, aesthetic, and ethical 
operation on the HI M L stream that at once refines it, produces new meth- 
ods of use, ignores much of the data linked to or embedded within it, and 
provides a mechanism through which thedeeper structure of the web can be 
explored and used. 

T his is not to say much. It is immediately obvious that the Stalker is inca- 
pable of using images and some of the more complex functions available on 
the web. These include for instance: gifs, forms, Java, VRML, frames, etc. 
Some of these are deliberately ignored as a way of trashing the dependence 
on the page and producing a device that is more suited to the propensities 
of the network. Some are left out simply because of the conditions of the 
production of the software— we had to decide what was most important for 
us to achieve with available resources and time. This is not to say that if 
methods of accessing this data were to be incorporated into the Stalker that 
they would have been done so "on their own terms" It is likely that at the 
very least they would have been dismantled, dissected, opened up for use in 
some way 

Another key factor in the shape of the program and the project as a whole 
is the language it was written in: Lingo, the language within M acromedia 
Director— a program normally used for building multimedia products and 
presentations T his is to say the least a gawky angle to approach writing any 
application. But it was used for two reasons— it gave us very good control 
over interface design and because NetLingo wasjust being introduced, but 
more importantly because within the skill base of 1/0/ D, that was what we 
had. T hat it was done anyway is, we hope, an encouragement to those who 
have the "wrong" skills and few resources but a hunger to get things done, 
and a provocation to those who are highly skilled and equipped but never 
do anything. 

Previous work by artists on the web was channeled into providing content for 
websites T hese sites are bound by the conventions enforced by browser-type 
software T hey therefore remain the most determining aesthetic of this work. 


The majority of web-based art, if it deals with its media contect at all can be 
understood by four brief typologies: 

incoherence (user abuse, ironic dysfunctionality, randomness to mask pointless- 

archaeslogy (media archaeology emulators of old machines and software, and 
structuralist materialist approach) 

rdrotooling (integrity to old materials in "new" media, integrity as l<itsch 
derived from punl</ jazz/ hip hop, old-style computer graphics, and "filmic 
references"— the Futile Style Of London; see the "FSOL" section of the 
1 0 D website) 

deconstruction (conservative approach to analyzing-in-practice the develop- 
ment of multimedia and networl<s, consistently re-articulating contradiction 
rather than using it as a launching pad for new techniques of composition). 

Within the discourse networks of art, including critical technique; license to 
irresponsibility; compositions-in-progress of taste stratification and breaks; 
institutions; finance; individual survival strategies; media; social networks; 
legitimation devices; at least potential openness to new forms; and avowed 
attentivenessto manifestations of beauty, there were dynamics that were use- 
ful to mobilize in order to open up possibilities of circulation and effect for 
the Web Stalker. However, at the same time as the project was situated with- 
in contemporary art, it is also widely operative outside of it. M ost obviously 
it is at the very least, a piece of software 

just as the Stalker is not-just-art, it can only come into occurrence by 
being not just itself. It has to be used. Assimilation into possible circuits of 
distribution and effect in this case means something approaching a media 

0 perating at another level to the Web Stalker's engagement within art were 
two other forms of media that were integral to the project: stickers (bearing 
a slogan and the 1/ 0 / D URL) and freeware. Both are good contenders for 
being the lowest, most despised grade of media. That the Web Stalker is 
Freeware has been essential in developing its engagement with various cul- 
tures of computing. 

T he Web Stalker has gone into circulation in the low hundreds of thousands 
Responses have ranged from intensely detailed mathematical denunciations 
of the M ap and a total affront that anyone should try anything different; to 
evil glee, and a superb and generous understanding of the project's tech- 
niques and ramifications 

While for many the internet simply is what is visible with a browser, at the 
same time it is apparent that there is a widespread desire for new nonfor- 
mulaic software. One of the questions that the Stalker poses is how program 
design istaken forward. Within the limitationsof the programming language 
and those of time, the project achieved what it set out to do. As a model of 
software development outside of the superinvested proprietary one this spec- 


ulative and interventional mode of production stands alongside two other 
notable radical models: that of free software and that derived from the sci- 
ence shops, (wherein software is developed by designers and programmersin 
collaboration with clients for specifically social uses). Unlil<e these others it is 
not so lil<ely to find itself becoming a model that is widely adoptableand sus- 

I n a sense then, the web stall<er works as a l<ind of "tactical software" but it 
is also deeply implicated within another l<ind of tacticity— the developing 
street l<nowledge of the nets (see G. Lovinl< and D. Garcia, "The ABC of 
Tactical Media" <>). This is a sense of the 
flows, consistencies and dynamics of the nets that is most closely associated 
with hackers, but that is perhaps immanent in different ways in every user. 
Bringing out and developing this culture however demands attention. In 
some respects this induction of idiosyncratic knowledges of minute effects 
ensures only that while the browser wars will never be won, they are never 
over. So long as there's the software out there working its temporal distortion 
effects on "progress" So long as there's always some nutter out there in the 
jungle tooled up with some VT 100 web viewer, copies of M osaic, M acweb, 

At the same time we need to nurture our sources of thisars metropolitani of the 
nets During recent times and most strongly because of the wider effects of 
specific acts of repression, hacking itself has often become less able to get 
things going because it has (a) been driven more underground, (b) been 
offered more jobs, and (c) been les imaginatively willing or able to ally itself 
with other social currents 

Software forges modalities of experience— sensoriums through which the 
world is made and known. Asa product of "immaterial labor" software is a 
social, technical, and aesthetic relation that is embodied— and that is at once 
productive of more relations That the production of value has moved so 
firmly into the terrain of immaterial labor, machine embodied intelligence, 
style as factory the production of subjectivity, makes the evolution of what 
was previously sectioned as "culture" so much more valuable to play for— 
potentially always as sabotage— but, as a development of the means of 
mutation, most compellingly as synthesis 

Synthesis is explicitly not constitutive of a universe of synchronization and 
equivalence where everything connects to everything Promising nothing but 
reconstitutive obliteration to "worlds" where everything means only one 
thing: virtual office, virtual pub, virtual gallery virtual nightclub, however 
many more sonic gulags passing as virtual mixing decks What is so repulsive 
about this nailed-down faithfulness is not so much that its darkside is about 
as disturbing as a blacklight lightbulb, or that it presents a social terrain that 
has been bounced clean by the most voracious of doormen— the miserable 
consciousnesses of its producers— but that it is continually dragging this 
space of composition, network, computer, user, software, socius, program 
production, back into the realm of representation, the dogged circular 
churning of avatars through the palace of mundane signs, stiffs reduced if at 
all possible to univocal sprites, rather than putting things into play rather 
than making something happen. 


Synthesis incorporates representation as a modality. Representation is not 
replaced but subsumed by the actualization of ideas and the dynamism of 
material through which, literally "in the realm of possibility," it becomes 
contingent. But this is not to trap synthesis within the "inherent" qualities of 
materials "Truth to materials" functions at once as both a form of tran- 
scendence through which by the purest of imputations interpretative schema 
can pluck out essences and as a form of repressively arch earnestness. T his 
is a process of overflowing all ideal categories 

The M ap mal<esthe links between HTML documents Each URL is a cir- 
cle, every link is a line. Sites with more lines feeding into them have brighter 
circles Filched data coruscating with the simple fact of how many and which 
sites connect to, or wherever. (U niess it's been list- 
ed on the ignore.txt file customizable and tucked into the back of the 
Stalker). Every articulation of the figure composing itself on screen issimply 
each link being followed through. The map spreads out flat in every direc- 
tion, forging connections rather than faking locations It is a figuration that 
is immutably live. A processual opening up of the web that whilst it deals at 
every link with a determinate arrangement has no cutoff point other than 
infinity Whilst the Browser just gives you history under the Go menu, the 
M ap swerves past whichever bit of paper is being pressed up to the inside of 
the screen to govern the next hours of clickthrough time by developing into 
the future— picking locks as it goes 

From there, in unison with whichever of the other functions are applied, a 
predatory approach to data is developed. Sites are dismantled, stored, 
scanned to build up other cultures of use of the nets That the software is 
cranky that things become alien, that it is not the result of years of flow- 
charted teams, that it forces (horrific act) PC users to use alt, Ctrl, delete to 
quit the program is not in question. 

All the while, synthesis keeps running, keeps mixing Producing sensoriums, 
modes of operation, worldviews that are downloadable (that is both trace- 
able and open), mixable, measurable, assimilable (but not without risk of 
contamination), discardable, perhaps even immersive T his is a poetics of 
potential that is stringent— not just providing another vector for perpetually 
reactive opportunism— yet revelling in the possibility always also operating 
within the most intensified sounds: a hardcore methodology 
Aggregates are formed from the realm induced by the coherence of every 
possibility Syntactics tweaks, examines, and customs them according to con- 
text. This context is not preformatted. It is up for grabs, for remaking. 
Synthesis determines a context within which it is constitutive and comes into 
composition within ranges of forces Everything— every bit, every on or off 
fact— is understood in terms of its radical coefficiency against the range of 
mutation from which it emerged and amongst the potential syntheses with 
which it remains fecund. It is the production of sensoria that are productive 
not just of "worlds" but of the world. 




DATE: MON, 26 OCT 1998 20:10:54 -0800 (PST) 


New media requires a new critical language— to describe it, to analyze it, 
and to teach it. Where shall this language come from? We can't go on sim- 
ply using technical terms such as "a website" to refer to works radically dif- 
ferent from each other in intention and form. At the same time, traditional 
cultural concepts and forms prove to be inadequate as well. I mage and view- 
er, narrative and montage, illusion and representation, space, and time— 
everything needs to be redefined again. 

To articulate the critical language of new media we need to correlate older 
cultural/ theoretical concepts and the concepts that describe the organiza- 
tion/operation of a digital computer. As an example of this approach, con- 
sider the following four categories interface database navigation, and spatializa- 
tion. Each of these categories provides a different lens through which to 
inquire about the emerging logic, grammar, and poetics of new media; each 
brings with it a set of different questions 

Database: After the novel and later cinema privileged narrative as the key 
form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age brings with 
it a new form— database. What are the origins, ideology and possible aes- 
thetics of a database? H ow can we negotiate between a narrative and a data- 
base? Why is database imagination taking over at the end of the twentieth 

Interface In contrast to a film, which is projected upon a blank screen and a 
painting which begins with a white surface, new media objects always exist 
within a larger context of a human-computer interface How does a user's 
familiarity with the computer's interface structure the reception of new 
media art? Where does interface end and the "content" begin? 
Spatialization: T he overall trend of computer culture is to spatialize all repre- 
sentations and experiences T he library is replaced by cyberspace; narrative 
is equated with traveling through space (M yst); all kinds of data are rendered 
in three dimensions through computer visualization. Why is space being 
privileged? Shall we try to oppose this spatialization (that is, what about time 
in new media)? What are the different kinds of spaces possible in new media? 
N avigation: We no longer only look at images or read texts; instead, we navi- 
gate through new media spaces H ow can we relate the concept of naviga- 
tion to more traditional categories such as viewing, reading, and identifying? 
In what ways do current popular navigation strategies reflect military origins 
of computer imaging technology? H ow do we demilitarize our interaction 
with a computer? How can we describe the person doing the navigation 
beyond the familiar metaphors of "user" and "flaneur"? 



The next step in articulating tlie critical language of new media involves 
defining genres, forms, and figures that persist in spite of constantly chang- 
ing hardware and software, using the categories as building blocks For 
example, consider two key genres of computer culture: a database and nav- 
igable space. (That is, creating works in new media can be understood as 
either constructing the right interface to a multimedia database or as defin- 
ing a navigation method through spatialized representations) 
Why does computer culture privilege these genres over other possibilities? 
We may associate the first genre with work (postindustrial labor of informa- 
tion processing) and the second with leisure and fun (computer games), yet 
this very distinction is no longer valid in computer culture. Increasingly the 
same metaphors and interfaces are used at work and at home, for business 
and for entertainment. For instance, the user navigates through a virtual 
space both to work and to play whether analyzing financial data or killing 
enemies in Doom. 


New media theory also should trace the historical formation of these cate- 
gories and genres. H ere are examples of such an analysis. 

Exhibit 1: Dziga Vertov, M an with a M ovieCamera, USSR, 1928 
Vertov's avant-garde masterpiece anticipates every trend of new media of 
the 1990s 0 f particular relevance are its database structure and its focus on 
the camera's navigation through space. 

Computer culture appears to favor a database ("collection," "catalog," and 
"library" arealso appropriate here) over a narrative form. M ost websites and 
CD-ROM s, from individual artistic works to multimedia encyclopedias* are 
collections of individual items, grouped together using some organising 
principle. Websites, which continuously grow with new links being added to 
already existent material, are particularly good examples of this logic. I n the 
case of many artists' CD -ROMs, the tendency is to fill all the available stor- 
age space with different material: documentation, related texts, previous 
works, and so on. In this case, the identity of a CD-ROM (or of a DVD- 
ROM ) as a storage media is projected onto a higher plane, becoming a cul- 
tural form of its own. 

Vertov'sfilm reconciles narrative and a database by creating narrative out of 
a database. Records drawn from a database and arranged in a particular 
order become a picture of modern life— and simultaneously an interpreta- 
tion of this life. A M an with a M ovieCamera is a machine for visual epistemol- 
ogy T he film also fetishizes the camera's mobility, its abilities to investigate 
the world beyond the limits of human vision. In structuring the film around 
the camera's active exp 

Exhibit 2: Evans and Sutherland, Real-time Computer Graphics for Military 
Simulators, USA, early 1990s 

M ilitary and flight simulators have been one of the main applications of 
real-time 3-D photorealistic computer graphics technology in the seventies 


and the eigties, thus determining to a significant degree the way this tech- 
nology developed. 0 ne of the most common forms of navigation used today 
in computer culture— flying through spatialized data— can be traced back to 
simulators representing the world through the viewpoint of a military pilot. 
T hus, from Vertov's mobile camera we move to the virtual camera of a sim- 
ulator, which, with the end of the Cold War, became an accepted way to 
interact with any and all data, the default way of encountering the world in 
computer culture. 

Exhibit 3: Peter Greenaway Prospero's Books, 1991. 
One of the few directors of his generation and stature to enthusiastically 
embrace new media, Greenaway tries to re-invent cinema's visual language 
by adopting computer's interface conventions In Prospero's Books, cinematic 
screen frequently emulates a computer screen, with two or more images 
appearing in separate windows Greenaway also anticipates the aesthetics of 
later computer multimedia by treating images and text as equals 
Like Vertov, G reenaway can be also thought of a database filmmaker, work- 
ing on a problem of how to reconcile database and narrative forms M any 
of hisfilms progress forward by recounting a list of items, a catalog that does 
not have any inherent order (for example, different books in P rospero's B ooks). 

Exhibit4: TamasWaliczky "TheGarden" (1992), "The Forest" (1993), "The 
Way" (1994), H ungary/ Germany Joachim Sauter and Dirk Liisenbrink 
(Art-i-Com), T he Invisible Shape of Things Past, Berlin, 1997. 
TamasWaliczky openly refuses the default mode of spatial ization imposed by 
computer software, that of the one-point linear perspective. Each of his 
computer animated films "T he G arden," T he Forest," and "T he Way" uti- 
lizes a particular perspective system: a water-drop perspective in "The 
Garden," a cylindrical perspective in "T he Forest", and a reverse perspective 
in "T he Way" Working with computer programmers, the artist created cus- 
tom-made 3-D software to implement these perspective systems 
In "The Invisible Shape of Things Past" Joachim Sauter and Dirk 
Lusenbrink created an original interface for accessing historical data about 
Berlin. The interface devirtualizes cinema, so to speak, by placing the 
records of cinematic vision back into their historical and material context. 
As the user navigates through a 3-D model of Berlin, he or she comes across 
elongated shapes lying on city streets These shapes, which the authors call 
"filmobjects", correspond to documentary footage recorded at the corre- 
sponding points in the city. To create each shape the original footage is dig- 
itized and the frames are stacked one after another in depth, with the origi- 
nal camera parameters determining the exact shape. 

Exhibit 5: Computer Games, 1990s 

Today computer games represent the most advanced area of new media, 
combining the latest in real-time photorealistic 3-D graphics, virtual actors, 
artificial intelligence, artificial life and simulation. They also illustrate the 
general trend of computer culture toward the spatialization of every cultural 
experience. In many games, narrative and time itself are equated with the 


movement through space (that is, going to new rooms, levels, or words.) In 
contrast to modern literature, theater, and cinema that are built around the 
psychological tensions between characters, these computer games return us 
to the ancient forms of narrative where the plot is driven by the spatial move- 
ment of the main hero, traveling through distant lands to save the princess, 
to find the treasure, or to defeat the Dragon. 

[Thistext is based on the program of the symposium "Computing Culture: 
Defining New M edia Genres," which I and my collegues organized in the 
spring of 1988 at Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, 
University of California, San Diego. See < ~cul^ 
ture/ symposium. html>. Edited by Mathew Fuller.] 


DATE: TUE, 17 JUN 1997 20:29:54 -0400 (EDT) 

Beyond the traditional division of graphic user interface (GUI) and text- 
based interface, the unix and linux system/ s create a unique environment 
problematizing machine, boundary surface, and structure. 
T he environment has implications far beyond a l<inesic study of a particular 
technology; these tend toward an (un)accountancy of splintering or sputter- 
ing, stuttered linl<ages, microsutures, scanning intention across or among tra- 
ditionally "isolated" platforms Begin with the apparent file structure: 

1. Working within the files, there are several domains: the formal tree-organ- 
ization of the operating system (beginning with the root and ascending/ 
descending); the accumulation or heap of files within the local directory (these 
files may or may not be related beyond their common path); and the imminent 
domain, the file or files currently open or in the process of being modified 
(these are nonexclusionary). 

2. The graphic interface opens to shells as well, and since the interface 
devolves from a blank scran, there is simultaneously potential (clicl< anywhere 
on it) and absence (nothing visible), reflecting upon the human operator / 
monitor interface as well. 

3. Errors may or may not be characterized by error messages, which are 
inscribed by a process evolving from the root cause; there is then both the 
symptom (program x misbehaving) and the message (Error: <etc.>) that 
intersect: the message may be the (only visible) symptom, and the symptom 
itself may carry the message. 

4. It is ea^ to asume that source code is equivalent to bones and operable 


binaries to flesli; or tlie l<ernel as fundament, and file structure as slough. I 
would rather argue for a system of cubist plateaus of intersecting informa- 
tion regimes, with vectors' commands operating among them. In this sense 
it is information that is immanent within the operating ^stem, not any par- 
ticular plateau-architecture. 

5. Language moves among performative, declarative, and neutral / dev/ nul 
regimes; again, the boundaries are blurred, even on a technical level. 
Programs, more properly scripts (an apt word, since code is inscribed) call up 
different languages, shells, other programs, internal or external conduits (see 
below); internal and external interpenetrate here. 

6. The division between GUI and text-based net access is blurred; shell 
accounts use IP and can open X Window and browsers, just as browser 
G U I s can share window space with shells 

7. T he space of the operating system is problematized since machines carve 
out what I call fradal channeling, ports and commands rapidly shuttling back 
and forth between traditionally external netspaceand internal vehicle space. 
C hannels may open to other shells which may open to other channels; loop- 
back channels operate within the local vehicle (internally), for example, and 
may be used to communicate with incoming on a local talk application. In 
shell-to-shell, both are equivalent on the screen: think of this as screen-reso- 
nance or system of strange attractors 

8. Furthermore, within the screen-resonance there are the spaces of the 
user/ s on the system, partly application-dependent, shuttling among per- 
sons, tenses, and semantico-grammatical categories (Whorfian, in other 
words). Two linked talkers may be opened in relation to a net browser on an 
X Window while top (a program monitoring machine processes) is also run- 
ning, and files are being transferred from a cdrom to hard drive. Attention 
moves among these spaces' applications, blurring distinctions; the talkers, for 
example, may demand considerable psychological investment, while anom- 
alies in one or more of the other applications also call for immediate exam- 
ination and response. If errors etc. appear, the anomalies (in relation to the 
normative ongoing chat) may best be described phenomenologically by 
Schutz's relevance theory consider lifeworld strata, projects, and presentifi- 
cations— in spite of the fact that all of this is primarily read and written to, 
inscribed and counterinscribed. 

9. One might argue that the fractured domain in its entirety is never 
grasped— nor is there a "domain" and "entirety" at all. If we extend 
inscription and counterinscription, taking into account fuzzy and fractal 
channeling (deconstruction of category object/ arrow theory), we can work 
toward a loosely defined sememe undergoing continuous and fairly rapid 
transformations, which are not necessarily charted from either interior or 
exterior (meta-) positions. T he traditional metapsychology of the user splits, 
just as it splits beneath the sign of morphing gender in M 0 0 s and IRC; it 


is always already possible for theory to tal<e morphing into account (as if 
morpliing is being- accounted- for and tlierefore accountable), but this is a posteri- 
ori; in fact the splitting problematizes any metapsychology insofar as the 
mind is considered a somewhat closed (hydraulic model) frame, as opposed 
to a fuzzy communicative systemics paralleling the description herein of the 
operating system itself. 

10. It is not difficult to see, not the operating system as mind, but both mind 
and operating system as challenging dyadic conventions of interior/ exterior, 
grammatical tense and person, and so on. As I have mentioned before, 
M eriin Donald takes steps in this direction; one can also consider an accu- 
mulation or sememe of flows moving among bodies, organs, and so on, along 
the lines of Deleuzeand Guattari. 

11. Within and without all of this, thecyborg model, based on the suturing of 
disparate epistemes becomes oddly antiquated; it accounts well for pros- 
thetics, robotics, and machine/ organism navigation, but remains based on 
traditionally separate ontological domains Instead, think of spread epis- 
temes and ontologies— for example, the distinction between declarative and 
performative becomes oddly confused in the case of basic HTML coding 
(that is without "refresh" or JavaScript), which flows texts around screens 

12. Finally one might bring up postmodernisms, with their flows part- 
objects relativities multiculturalisms incommensurability of commensu- 
rable languages (and commensurability of incommensurable language)— as 
well the postmodern architectures, with their deconstructions skewlines and 
exposures/ doublings baring the systems decomposing them. And it is true 
that such architectures have their equivalent among the operating system 
architectures; the operating system kernel for example may be equivalent to 
the control center of a building, and the communicative flow through a 
building has its equivalence with the fractal channeling described above 
Nevertheless, I would not want to push this analogy to the extent that the 
postmodern is representative of a stage (that is post-Fordism among other 
things), and not necessarily the (de)construct of a broken episteme more or 
less permanently on the (broken) horizon and always-having-been-present. 
For the operating systems under consideration may be likened to the pro- 
duction of a scanning electron microscope, a case in which scanning is related to 
phenomenological intentionality instead of the discrete world of envisioned 
objects and flows described in, say G ibson's work. T he difference, yet to be 
accounted for, never to be accounted for, lies between the optical circularity 
of the phenomenology of the image produced by the light microscope, and 
the exaggerated dimensionality and exploratory scanning of any electron 
microscope, such as the tunneling or even the recent development of the 
scanning probe, which promises to "image single electrons" one might 
almost say bits and their own architectures down to that very level (Sdentific 
American July 1997.) 

[See < -spoons/ internet_txt.html>.] 




DATE: WED, 5 AUG 1998 14:24 EDT 

Schizophrenia is the ego crisis of the cyborg; it is inevitable. Cyborgs are the 
fabrications of a science invested in the reproduction of subjects it takes to 
be real, a sciencewhosefirst mistake was the belief that cyborg subjects were 
autonomous agents, that they existed outside any web of pre-existing signifi- 
cations Prestructured by all comers, but taken to be pristine, the artificial 
agent is caught in the quintessential double bind. Fabricated by the tech- 
niques of mass production, the autonomous agent shares in the modern mal- 
ady of schizophrenia. This piece tellsthe story of that cyborg, of the ways it 
has come into being, how it has been circumscribed and defined, how this 
circumscription has led to its schizophrenia, and the ways in which it might 
one day be cured. 


The cyborg was born in the fifties, the alter ego of the computer. It was 
launched into a world that had already defined it, a world whose notions 
of subjectivity and mechanicity not only structured it but provided the very 
grounds for its existence It was born from the union of technical possibil- 
ity with the attitudes, dreams, symbols concepts prejudices of the men 
who had created it. Viewed by its creator as pure potentiality it was from 
the start, hamstrung by the expectations and understandings that defined 
its existence. 

Those expectations were, and are, almost unachievable The artificial subject 
is an end point of science, the point at which knowledge of the subject will 
be so complete that its reproduction is possible The twin births of Cognitive 
Science and Artificial Intelligence (A I) represent two sides of the epistemo- 
logical coin: the reduction of human existence to a set of algorithms and 
heuristics and the re-integration of those algorithms into a complete agent. 
This resulting agent carries the burden of proof on its back; its "correctness" 
provides the objective foundation for a complex system of knowledge whose 
centerpiece is rationality. 

M ake no mistake, rationality is the central organizing principle of classical 
Al. The artificial agent is fabricated in a world where "intelligence," not 
"existence," is paramount, an "intelligence" identified with the problem- 
solving behavior of the scientist. For classical Al, the goal is to reduce intel- 
ligent behavior to a set of more or less well-defined puzzles to solve each 
puzzle in a rational, ideally provably correct, manner, and, one day to inte- 
grate all those puzzle-solvers into an agent indistinguishable (within a suffi- 
ciently limited framework) from a human. 

T hat limited framework had better not exceed reason. Despite early dreams 
of agents as emotionally volatile as humans the baggage of an engineering 


background quickly reduced agenthood to rationality. Allen N ewell, one of 
the founders of Al, stated that the decision procedure of an agent must fol- 
low the "principle of rationality:" any agent worthy of its name must 
always pursue a set of goals, and may only take actions it believes help 
achieve one of its goals ("T he K nowledge Level," CM U CS Technical Report 
C M U -C S-81-131, July 1981). I n this system's narrow constraints, any agent 
that defies pure rationality is declared incomprehensible, and hence scien- 
tifically invalid. 

Given these expectations, it was ironic when the artificial agent began to 
show signs of schizophrenia. Designing a rational decision procedure to 
solve a dearly defined puzzle was straightforward; combining these proce- 
dures to function holistically in novel situations proved to be nearly impossi- 
ble. Bound in the straitjacket of pure rationality, the cyborg began to show 
signs of disintegration: uttering words it did not understand upon hearing, 
reasoning about events that did not affect its actions, suffering complete 
breakdown in situations that did not fit into its limited ^stem of prepro- 
grammed concepts. It could play chess like a master, re-arrange blocks on 
command in its dream world, configure computer boards; but it could not 
see, find its way around a room, or maintain routine behavior in a changing 
world. It was defined and fabricated in an ideal, Platonic world, and could 
not function outside the boundaries of neat definitions Faced with an uncer- 
tain, incompletely knowable world, it ground to a halt. 


U nderstanding that the cyborg was caught in a rational, disembodied dou- 
ble bind, some Al researchers abandoned the terrain of classical Al. 
Alternative A I — a/ k/ a Artificial Life, behavior-based Al, situated action- 
sought to treat agents by redefining the grounds of their existence. No 
longer limited to the Cartesian subject, the principle of situated action shat- 
tered notions of atomic individualism by redefining an agent in terms of its 
environment. An agent should be understood in terms of interactions with 
its environment. "Intelligence" is not located in an agent butisthesum total 
of a pattern of events occurring in the agent and in the world. T he agent 
no longer "solves problems," but "behaves"; the goal is not "intelligence" 
but "life." 

Redefining the agent's conditions of existence breathed new life into the 
field, if not into the agent itself. Where once there had been puzzle-solvers 
and theorem-provers as far as the eye could see, there were now herds of 
walking robots, self-navigating cans-on-wheels and insect pets. Alternative 
Al gave the cyborg its body and lifted some of the constraints on its behav- 
ior. No longer required to be rational, the artificial agent found new vistas 
open to itself. 

It did not, however, escape schizophrenia. Liberated from the constraints of 
pure reason, practitioners of alternative Al, unwittingly following the latest 
trends in postmodernism, embrace schizophrenia as a factor of life. Rather 
than creating schizophrenia as a side effect, they explicitly engineer it in: the 
more autonomous an agent's behaviors are, the fewer traces of Cartesian 
ego left, the better. M ay the most fractured win! 

Dear "Nettimers": Allow me to introduce 
myself to you all. My name is Nathan 
Myhrvold, and I'm a Group Vice 
President at Microsoft. One of my 
responsibilities is identifying new 
opportunities for us to explore. Over tfie 
past several years, I have taken a spe- 
cial interest in the intersection of multi- 
media and networking. It is my impres- 
sion that many of you understand just 
how complex this intersection will be. At 
Microsoft we take great pride in the 
quality of our work, but we occasionally 
find the answers to our quests off our 
Campus, in vibrant and creative com- 
munities of every kind. Nettime is one 
such community, I believe. You were 
brougtit to my attention by Mark 
Stahlman. In a recent meeting fie rec- 
ommended that I take a look at your 
mailing list. So 1 set aside some time to 
look through your archives; and overall 
I was extremely impressed with what I 
found. I was particularly struck by tfie 
"rfiytfim" of your conversations: so 
many people from so many countries 
able to identify and work toward a com- 
mon set of goals, wfiile accepting the 
necessary tensions and conflicts that 
advance entails. Believe me when I say 
that part of my job is to research ttiese 
kinds of tfiings; so I fiope you will 
accept my compliment wfien I say it is 
very rare to find tfiis dymanic on a mail- 
ing list. Wfien I investigated the individ- 
ual efforts of tfie Nettime list's contribu- 
tors, I was even more impressed by 
tfiis commonality, because you are indi- 
vidually pursuing very disparate efforts. 
At Microsoft, we believe tfiat a very 
important transformation is taking 
place. Things that many people take for 
granted — I am thinking of the mass 
media at one extreme, and individual 
creators at the ottier— will give way to a 
more complex and multivalent publish- 
ing environment. In this developing 
world, distributed efforts sucfi as 
Nettime will be truly decisive. That is 
why I am writing to you now. On behalf 
of the Microsoft Corporation, I would 
like to extend an invitation to you 
Nettime to hold your next meeting on 
our Redmond Campus. Needless to 
say, we will make arrangements for 
travel and lodging costs for up to a total 
of 300 attendees. As a token of our 
gratitude, Microsoft will underwrite rea- 
sonable expenses incurred in the 
process of publishing your proceed- 
ings. (Mark mentioned to me that tfie 
list's maintainors would like to publish a 
hard-copy anthology of your prior pub- 
lications.) Of course, I recognize that 
some members of your group may be 
hesitant about this invitation for various 
reasons. 1 trust that your experiences 
here will convince you that these reser- 
vations can be set aside for the time 
being in favor of the common pursuit of 
a better world for all. That is what I am 
working toward, and I believe the same 
is true of all "Nettimers." Thank you for 
your consideration, and I look forward 
to hearing from you soon. I hope you 
will accept my apologies in advance 
when I request that you refrain from 
publicly forwarding my specific contact 
information, [allegedly from Nathan 
Myhrvold <nathanm@microsoft. com>, 
An Invitation the "Nettime" Mailing List, 
Tue, 31 Mar 1998 14:20:21 -0800] 


At the same time, that schizophrenia becomes a limit point for alternative 
A I, just as it has been for classical Al. While acknowledging that schizo- 
phrenia is not a fatal flaw, alternativists have become frustrated at the extent 
to which it hampersthem from building extensive agents Alternativists build 
agents by creating behaviors; the integration of those behaviors into a larg- 
er agent has been as much of a stumbling block in alternative A I as the inte- 
gration of problem-solvers is in classical Al. Despite their differences in phi- 
losophy, neither alternativists nor classicists know how to keep an agent's 
schizophrenia from becoming overwhelming. What is it about the engineer- 
ing of subjectivities that has made such divergent approaches ground on the 
same problem? 


C ertainly, classical and alternative Al have very different stakes in their def- 
initions of artificial subjectivity. These different definitions lead to widely 
divergent possibilities for constructed subjects At the same time, these sub- 
jects share a mode of breakdown; could it be that these agent-rearing prac- 
tices, at first blush so utterly opposed and motivated by radically dissimilar 
politics, really have much in common? 

T he agents' schizophrenia itself points the way to a diagnosis of the com- 
mon problem. Far from being autonomous and pristine objects, artificial 
agents carry within themselves the fault lines, not only of their physical envi- 
ronment, but also of the scientific and cultural environment that created 
them. The breakdowns of the agent reflect the weak points of their con- 
struction. It is not only the agents themselves that are suffering from schizo- 
phrenia, but the very methodology that is used to create them— a method- 
ology that, at its most basic, both alternative and classical A I share. 
In classical Al, the agent is problem-solver and rational goal-seeker, built 
using functional decomposition. The agent's mind is presumed to contain 
modules corresponding roughly to problem-solving methods Researchers 
work to "solve" each method, creating self-contained modules for vision, 
speaking and understanding natural language, reasoning, planning, learning, 
etc. Once they have built each module, the hope is to glue them back togeth- 
er without too much effort to generate a complete problem-solving agent. 
This is generally an untested hope, since integration, for classicists, is both 
undervalued and nonobvious H ere, schizophrenia appears as an inability to 
seamlessly integrate the various competencies into a complete whole; the 
various parts have conflicting presumptions and divergent belief systems, 
turning local rationality into global irrationality. 
For practitioners of alternative Al , the agent is a behaver, and the preferred 
methodology is behavioral decomposition. I nstead of dividing the agent into 
modules corresponding to the abstract abilities of the agent, the agent is stri- 
ated along the lines of its observable behaviors it engages: hunting, explor- 
ing, sleeping, fighting, and so on. Alternativists hope to avoid the schizo- 
phrenia under which classicists suffer by integrating all the agent's abilities 
from the start into specific behaviors in which the agent is capable of seam- 
lessly engaging. The problem, again, comes when those behaviors must be 
combined into a complete agent: the agent knows what to do, but not when 


to do it or how to juggle its separate-but-equal behaviors. The agent sleeps 
instead of fighting, or tries to do both at once. 0 nee again the agent is not a 
seamlessly integrated whole but a jumble of ill-organized parts 
Fundamentally, in both forms of Al, an artificial agent isan engineered repro- 
duction of a "natural" phenomenon and consists of a semirandom collection 
of rational decision procedures Both classical and alternative Al use an analyt- 
ic methodology, a methodology that was described by M arx long before com- 
putationally engineering subjectivities became possible: "the process as a whole 
is examined objectively in itself, that is to say without regard to the question of 
its execution by human hands, it is analyzed into its constituent phases; and the 
problem, how to execute each detail proces£t and bind them all into a whole is 
solved by the aid of machines chemistry SiC" (K . M arx. Capital, trans M oore 
and Areling, vol. 1, NY: International, 1967, 380). In Al, one analyzes human 
behavior without reference to cultural context, then attempts, by analysis to 
determine and reproduce the process that generates it. The methodology of 
both types of Al is objective analysis with the following formula: 

1. Identify a phenomenon to reproduce. 

2. Characterize that phenomenon by mal<ing a finite list of properties that it has. 

3. Reproduce each property in a rational decision procedure. 

4. Combine the rational decision procedures, perhaps using another rational 
decision procedure, and presume the original phenomenon results. 

The hallmarks of objectivity reification, and exclusion of external context 
are clean Through their methodology both alternative and classical Al 
betray themselves as, not singularly novel sciences, but only the latest step in 
the process of industrialization. 

In a sense, the mechanical intelligence provided by computers is the quintes- 
sential phenomenon of capitalism. To replace human judgement with mechani- 
cal judgement— to record and codify the logic by which rational, profit-maximiz- 
ing decisions are made— manifests the process that distinguishes capitalism: the 
rationalization and mechanization of productive processes in the pursuit of prof- 
it... The modern world has reached the point where industrialisation is being 
directed squarely at the human intellect. (N. Kennedy, The Industrialization of 
Intelligence, London: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 6) 

This is no surprise, given that Al as an engineering discipline is often funded by 
big business Engineering and capital are co-articulated; fueled by money that 
encourages simple problem statements clearcut answers and quick profit 
unmitigated by social or cultural concerns, it would in fact be surprising if sci- 
entists had developed a different outlook. Reificatory methods seem inevitable 
But reification and industrialization lead to schizophrenia— the hard lesson 
of Taylorism. And the methodology of Al replicates Taylorist techniques 
Taylor analyzed workers' behavior to optimize the physical relation between 
worker and machine T he worker was reduced to a set of functions, each of 
which was optimized with no regard for the worker's psychological state. 
Workers were then ordered to act according to the generated optimal speci- 


fications; the result was chaos. Workers' bodies fell apart under the strain of 
repetitive motion. Worl<ers' minds could not take the stress of mind-numb- 
ing repetition. Taylorism fell prey to the limits of its own myopic vision. 
Taylorism, like Al, demands that rationalization encompass not only the 
process of production, but the subject itself. "With the modern "psychologi- 
cal" analysis of the work process (in Taylorism) this rational mechanization 
extends right into the worker's "soul": even his psychological attributes are 
separated from his total personality and placed in opposition to it so as to 
facilitate their integration into specialized rational systems and their reduction 
to statistically viable concepts" (G. Lukacs, "Reification," in H istory and Class 
Consdousness, trans Livingstone, Cambridge, M IT, 1971, 88). This rationali- 
zation turns the subject into an incoherent jumble of semirationalized 
processes since "not every mental faculty is suppressed by mechanization; 
only one faculty (or complex of faculties) is detached from the whole person- 
ality and placed in opposition to it, becoming a thing, a commodity" (ibid., 
99). At this point, faced with the machine, the subject becomes schizophrenic. 
And just the same thing happens in Al ; a set of faculties is chosen as repre- 
sentative of the desired behavior, is separately rationalized, and is reunited in 
a parody of holism. It is precisely the reduction of subjectivity to reified fac- 
ulties or behaviors and the naive identification of the resultant system with 
subjectivity as a whole that leadsto schizophrenia in artificial agents When it 
comes to the problem of schizophrenia, the analytic method is at fault. 


Where does this leave our cyborg? H aving traced its schizophrenia to the 
root, it would seem the antidote is straightforward: jettison the analytic 
method, and our patient is cured. However, the cyborg cannot recover 
because its creators cannot give up analysis T he analytic method is not inci- 
dental to present Al, something that could be thrown away and replaced 
with something better, but rather constitutive of it in its current form. 
First and foremost, both classical and alternative Al understand themselves 
as sciences T his means that they desire objectivity of knowledge production 
in their domain. For something to be objective, the cultural and contingent 
conditions of its production must be forgotten; like the capitalist commodi- 
ty-structure, "[i]ts basis is that a relation between people takes on the char- 
acter of a thing and this acquires a 'phantom objectivity,' an autonomy that 
seems so strictly rational and all-embracing as to conceal every trace of its 
fundamental nature in the relation between people" (ibid., 83). Objectivity 
requires reification as an integral part of scientific methodology since it 
insists that the knowing subject must be carefully withheld from the picture. 
T he scientist must narrow the context in which the object is seen to exclude 
him- or herself, as well as any other factors that are unmeasurable or other- 
wise elude rationalizing "T he 'pure' facts of the natural sciences arise when 
a phenomenon of the real world is placed (in thought or in reality) into an 
environment where its laws can be inspected without outside interference." 
(G. Lukacs "Orthodox Marxism," in History and Class Consciousness, 6). 
0 bjectivity requires simplification, definition, and exclusion; in Al it requires 
the analytic method. 


The analytic method, after all, makes two movements: it first reduces an 
observed phenomenon to a formalized ghost of itself, then takes that for- 
malized, rationalized object as identical to the phenomenon. Formalization 
requires that one define every object and its limited context in terms of a 
finite number of strictly identifiable phenomena; it requires reification. T his 
formalism is itself a requirement of objectivity; as the cognitive scientist 
Laszio M ero puts it, "T he essence of the belief of science is objectivity and 
formalization can be regarded as its inevitable but secondary outgrowth" 
(Ways of T hinking, trans A. C. Gosi-Greguss, ed. V. M eszaros New Jersey: 
World Scientific, 1990, 187). The other part of the analytic method, the 
identification of science's view of an object with that object, is also necessi- 
tated by objectivity. Otherwise, if some part of the phenomenon were 
allowed to escape, what would be left of science's claims to absolute truth? 
T hus, the analytic method is a direct result of A I's investments in science and 
the concomitant demands of objectivity And if science inexorably leads to 
schizophrenia, it is precisely because it takes its limited view of the subject 
for the subject itself. Only allowing for rational, formal knowledge, pure sci- 
ence is always exceeded by the subject, which, appearing as in a broken mir- 
ror, seems to be incomprehensibly heterogeneous 


Again, where does this leave our cyborg? Far from being a liberation from 
rationality by alternative A! , its schizophrenia is the symptom of their under- 
the-table return to objectivity. Alternative A I makes an importantand laudable 
move in recognizing schizophrenic subjectivity as part of the domain of Al 
and abandoning pure rationality Its notions of embodiment and environmen- 
tal embeddednessof agents and can be revolutionary H owever, alternative A I 
does not go far enough in escaping the problemsthat underlie desire for ration- 
ality. If "[sjchizophrenia is at once the wall, the breaking through this wall, and 
the failures of this breakthrough," then alternative A I has reached the point of 
schizophrenia-as-wall and stopped (G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 
trans H uriey Seem, and Lane. New York: Viking, 1977, 136). 
In particular, "not going far enough" means that alternative A I is still invest- 
ed in the traditional notions of epistemological validity and in pure objec- 
tivity. Far from abandoning traditional ideas of objectivity, engineering, and 
agent divorced from context, alternative Al and ALife in particular have 
shown an even stronger commitment to them. Creating subjectivities as an 
engineering process and artificially fabricated subjectivity as a form of objec- 
tive knowledge production are central to ALife as currently practiced. 
Alternative A I is seen as simply more scientific than dassical Al . 
Alternativists believe that, by connecting the agent to a synthetic body and 
by avoiding the most obviously mentalistic terminology they have short-cir- 
cuited the plane of meaning-production, and, hence, are generating pure 
scientific knowledge. Rather than the free-floating, arbitrary signifiers of 
classical Al, alternative Al uses symbols "grounded" in the physical world. 
Classical Al is "cheating" because it does not have the additional "hard" 
constraint of working in "the real world"— a "real world" that, alternativists 
fail to recognize, always comes prestructured. 


What is odd about this mania for objectivity is that the very concept of a 
hard spiit between an agent and the environment of its creation necessitated 
by objectivity really should have been threatened by the fundamental real- 
ization of alternative Al : that agents can only be understood with respect to 
the environment in which they live and with which they interact, an envi- 
ronment that presumably includes culture. I n this light, the only way objec- 
tivity is maintained for aiternativists is to leave glaring gaps in the defined 
environment where one might expect an agent's cultural connection. T hese 
definitions exclude, for example, the designer of the agent and its audience, 
both physical and scientific, who are in the position of judging the agentness, 
schizophrenia, and scientific validity of the created agent. Alternative Al 
fails to realize its own conception— when it should realize its own complici- 
ty in the agent's formation it instead remains tethered to the same limiting 
notions of objectivity as classical Al . 

At the same time, the difficulty alternative Al has in introducing more radi- 
cal notions of agenthood has a clear source— it would require changing not 
only the definition of an agent, but some deep-seated assumptions that struc- 
ture the field, defining the rules by which l<nowledge is created and judged. 
But at the same time, the very schizophrenia current agents suffer provides a 
possible catalyst for changing the field. The hook is that even the most jaded 
aiternativists recognize schizophrenia as a technical limitation they would 
give their eyeteeth to solve It is the solution of the problem of agent inte- 
gration by means going beyond traditional engineering self-limitations, 
exclusions, and formalizations that will finally allow the introduction of 
nonobjective, nonformalistic methodologies into Al's scientific toolbox. 
W hat will these methodologies look like? T he fundamental requirement for 
the creation of these agents is jettisoning the notion of the "autonomous 
agent" itself. The autonomous agent by definition is supposed to behave 
without influence from the people who create or interact with it. By repre- 
senting the agent as detached from the process that creates it, the relation- 
ship between designer and audience is short-circuited, mystifying the agent's 
role in its cultural context. 

Instead of these presuppositions, essential for schizophrenizing the agent, I 
propose a notion of agent-as-interface, where the design of the agent is 
focused on neither a set of capacities the agents must possess nor behaviors 
it must engage in, but on the interactions the agent can engage in and the 
signs it can communicate with and to its environment. I propose the follow- 
ing postulates for a new Al: 

1. An agent can only be evaluated with respect to its environment, which indudes not only 
the objects with which it interad:s, but also its creators and observers. Autonomous agents 
are not "intelligent" in and of themselves, but rather with reference to a par- 
ticular system of constitution and evaluation, including the explicit and 
implicit goals of the project creating it, that project's group dynamics, and the 
sources of funding that both facilitate and circumscribe the directions in 
which the project can be taken. An agent's construction is not limited to the 
lines of code that form its program but involves a whole social network, which 
must be analyzed in order to get a complete picture of what that agent is 


2. An agent's design should focus, not on theagent itself, but on the dynamics of that agent 
with respect to its physical and social environments. In classical A I, an agent is 
designed alone; in alternative Al, it is designed for a physical environment; 
in a new A I, an agent is designed for a physical, cultural, and social envi- 
ronment, which includes the designer of its architecture, the agent's creator, 
and the audience that interacts with and judges the agent, including the peo- 
ple who engage it and the intellectual peers who judge its epistemological 
status T he goals of all these people must be explicitly taken into account in 
deciding what kind of agent to build and how to build it. 

3. An agent is, and will always remain, a representation. Artificial agents are a mir- 
ror of their creators' understanding of what it means to be at once mechan- 
ical and human, intelligent, alive, a subject. Rather than being a pristine test- 
ing-ground for theories of mind, agents come overcoded with cultural val- 
ues, a rich crossroadswhere culture and technology intersect and reveal their 

U nder this new Al , agents are no longer schizophrenic precisely because the 
burden of proof of a larger, self-contradictory system is no longer upon 
them. Rather than blaming the agent for the faults of its parents we can 
understand the agent as one part of a larger system. Rather than trying to 
create agents that are as autonomous as possible, that can erase the grounds 
of their construction asthoroughly as possible, we understand agents as facil- 
itating particular kinds of interactions between the people who are in con- 
tact with them. 

Fabricated subjects are fractured subjects, and no injection of straight sci- 
ence will fix them where they are broken. It is time to move bQ^ond scientif- 
ically engineering an abstract subjectivity to hook autonomous agents back 
into the environments that created them and wish to interact with them. 
T heir schizophrenia isonly the^mptom of a deeper problem in Al : it marks 
the point of failure of Al's reliance on analysis and objectivity. To cure it, we 
must move beyond agent-as-object to understand the roles agents play in a 
larger cultural framework. 

[This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research under grant 
N00014-92-j-1298. I would like to thank Stefan Helmreich and Charles 
Cunningham for comments on drafts of this paper.] 




DATE: WED, 7 OCT 1998 00:14:41 +0200 (MET DST) 

T he world in which we have lived for the last forty years is no longer broken 
up into stones, plants, and animals but into the unholy trinity of hardware, 
software and wetware Since computer technology (according to the hereti- 
cal words of its inventor) is at the point of "taking control," the term hard- 
ware no longer refers to building and gardening tools but to the repetition, a 
million times over, of tiny silicon transistors (A. Turing, "Intelligente 
M aschinen," in B. Dotzler and F. K ittler, eds. Intelligence Service, Berlin, 1986, 
15). Wetware, on the other hand, is the remainder that is left of the human 
race when hardware relentlessly uncovers all our faults, errors, and inaccu- 
racies T he billion-dollar business called software is nothing more than that 
which the wetware makes out of hardware: a logical abstraction that, in the- 
ory—but only in theory— fundamentally disregards the time and space 
frameworks of machines in order to rule them. 

In other words, the relationship between hardware, wetware and software 
remains a paradox. Either machines or humans are in control. H owever, 
since the latter possibility is just as obvious as it is trivial, everything depends 
on how the former is played out. We must be able to pass on to the coming 
generations— if not as the legacy of these times then as a kind of message in 
a bottle— what computer technology meant to the first generation it effect- 
ed. In opposition to this, though, isthefact that theories from the outset turn 
everything they are at all able to describe into software, that they are already 
b^ond hardware T here exists no word in any ordinary language that does 
what it says. No description of a machine setsthe machine into motion. Itis 
true that implementation, in the old Scottish double-meaning of the word— 
at once the becoming an implement and the completion or deployment— is 
indeed the thing that gives plans or theories their efficiency but at the price 
of forcing them into silence. 

In this crisis, the only remaining remedy is also just as obvious as it is trivial. 
T his essay instead of attempting a general theory of hardware which can- 
not be accomplished, turns first of all to history in order to take the meas- 
ure of what computer technology calls innovation, with the aid of a familiar 
hardware: writing For reasons connected to the city of Berlin, in this year, I 
further focus on one single hardware: the implementation of the knowledge 
produced by universities With the double prerequisites of high technology 
and the scarcity of finances, a kind of knowledge that needs knowledge 
hardware can probably do no damage. 



Ernst Robert Curtius, who knew what he was talking about, called universi- 
ties "an original creation of the [European] Middle Ages" (Europaische 
Literatur und Lateinisches M ittdalter, 4th ed., Bern, 1963, 64). Even this great 
medievalist, however, did not bother to clarify the kind of material basis this 
creation was founded upon. T he academies of antiquity, the only compara- 
ble institutions, got by with hardware that was more modest and more plen- 
tifully available. In Nietzsche's wicked phrasing, Plato himself, in all his 
Greek "innocence," made it clear "that there wouldn't even be a Platonic 
philosophy if there hadn't been so many lovely young boys in Athens, the 
sight of whom was what first set the soul of the philosopher into an erotic 
ecstasy, leaving his soul no peace until he had planted the seed of all high 
things in that beautiful soil" (Twilight of the Idols 6.3). The cultural legacy of 
a time in which the free citizens and the working slaves remained strictly sep- 
arated coincided, then, with biological heredity. 
T he youths who attended the early medieval universities, on the other hand, 
were monks Their task involved neither procreation nor beauty but work. 
Since the time of Cassiodor and Benedict, when it was allowed to fall to the 
level of a lowly craft or trade, this has consisted of writing. Every stroke of 
the quill on parchment, even if its meaning was lost to the writer, still as such 
delivered a flesh wound to Satan (C assiodorus, Deinstitutionedivinarum litter- 
arum,]. P. M igne, ed., Patrologia latina LXX, 1144ff.). Thus it came to be that 
monasteries, cathedral schools and universities began to produce books 
incessantly U nlike the academies or schools of philosophy in antiquity, they 
were founded on a material basis that cast the transfer of knowledge between 
the generations in a form of hardware. In place of an amorous rapture 
between philosophers and young boys, an Arabic import came up between 
professors and students: the simple page (H. A. Innis, Empire and 
Communications, London 1950). In the writing rooms maintained by every 
university, under the direction of lecturers, the old books multiplied to a mass 
of copies H ardly had the new university been founded when these copies, 
for their part, forced thefounding of a university library T he newly acquired 
knowledge was multiplied in letters that were sent from scholar to scholar, 
soon demanding the founding of a university postal system. Long before 
modern territorial states or nation states nationalized the universities, the 
dark M iddle Ages had already truly implemented this knowledge. 
It is well known that, as a legacy of this time when every university had at its 
disposal its own medium of storage (a library) and its own medium of trans- 
mission (a postal system), only the libraries remain. It is possible that the uni- 
versitas litterarum, the community of those versed in writing, was a bit too proud 
of its literacy to keep it secret as did the cleverer professions T he fastest and 
largest premodern postal system, reaching all across Europe, is thought to 
have been maintained by the butchers; but, as H einrich Bosse has pointed out 
to me, whenever the butchers had to appear before the court, however, they 
would strategically deny their writing and reading abilities It then came to be 
that, without much ado, the university postal service was merged with the 


state post upon which K aiser M aximilian and his royal rivals founded their 
states The abolition of the butcher post, however, was only achieved much 
later by the same kaisers and l<ings Bans and prohibitions that were just as 
draconian as th^ were repetitive helped spark the Thirty Years War 
In much the same way as the university postal services, which perished due 
to the vanity of those trained in writing, the university writing rooms have 
also disappeared. For Gutenberg's invention of moving type was not aimed 
at the multiplication of books but at their beautification. Everything that pre- 
viously flowed with the sweat of calligraphers, unable to entirely avoid mak- 
ing copying mistakes, into handwritten texts and miniatures was to become 
standardized, free of errors, and reproducible. Precisely this new beauty, 
however, made it possible to break knowledge down into software and hard- 
ware. Universities appeared, on the one hand, whose equally slow and 
unstoppable nationalization replaced the production of books with that of 
writers readers and bureaucrats 0 n the other hand, that Tower of Babel of 
books also emerged, whose thousands of identical pages had all the same 
page numbers and whose equally unfalsifiable illustrations put before the 
eyes that which the pages described (H. M. Enzensberger, Mausoleum, 
Frankfurt, 1973, 9). Once Leibniz submitted the organizing of authors and 
titles to the simple ABCs entire state and national libraries (such as those 
here in Berlin) were founded upon this addressability. At the same time, this 
alliance between text and image, book printing and perspective, gave rise to 
technical knowledge per se. 

It is no accident that Gutenberg's moving letters have been called history's 
first assembly line. For it wasthecompiling of drawings and lettering, and of 
construction plans and instruction manuals which first made it possible for 
engineers to build further and further on the shoulders— or rather on the 
books— of their predecessors, without being in any way dependent on oral 
tradition (M . Giesecke, Der Buchdruck in der friihen, Frankfurt, 1991, esp. 
626-30). Beyond the universities and their lecturing operations, going all the 
way back to the succession model of masters and journeymen, technical 
drawings and mathematical equations promoted a kind of knowledge that 
could even take book printing as its own basis Even the aesthetic- mathe- 
matical revolutions, bearing fruit in Brunelleschi's linear perspective and 
Bach's well-tempered clavier, were based upon measuring devices like the 
darkroom or the clock whose complex construction plans could first be 
handed down through printed matter T he fact that Vasari placed the inven- 
tion of the camera obscura, that technically implemented perspective, in the 
same year as Gutenberg's book printing was, of course, a mistake— but it 
was significant. In technical media, such as photography or the phonograph, 
precisely the same discoveries are at work, but with the difference that no 
longer is any hand, and thus no artistry necessary to mediate between the 
algorithm and the machine. Perspective has its origin in the beam path of the 
lens; frequency analysis in the needle's cutting process. Instead of monks, 
scholars or artists (in the lovely words of photography pioneer H enry Fox 
Talbot) with analog media "nature" itself guides "the pencil" (H . von 
Amelunxen, DieaufgehobeneZei, Berlin, 1989, 27ff., esp. Talbot's letter to the 
Literary Gazette, February 2, 1839, v Amelunxen [30]). 


H owever, the analog media of the greater nineteenth century pay a price for 
this self-sufficiency The more algorithmic the transmission of their input 
data, the more chaotic isthe storage of their output data. T he immense stor- 
age facilities, holding in images and sounds that which was once known as 
history replace history with real-time, but they also replace addressability 
with sheer quantity. In spite of film philology (to use 1^ unich University's 
bold neologism), no one can sicim through celluloid or vinyl like they can in 
the philologist's books. For this reason, it is precisely the act of implement- 
ing optical and acoustic knowledge in Europe which has resulted in bound- 
less ignorance. At the same historical moment that nation states were giving 
their populations democratic law in the form of general obligatory school- 
ing, the people themselves saw writing fade away into high-tech arcana. 
T heir unreadable power, systematically drifting away from the populations, 
has passed from World War I's military telegraph system to the expanded 
directional radio of World War 1 1 and, finally to the computer networks of 
today The father of all transmission-technological innovations, however, 
has been war itself. In a strategic chain of escalation, the telegraph 
appeared in order to surpass the speed of messenger postal services; radio 
was developed to solve the problem of vulnerable undersea cables; and the 
computer emerged to make possible the codification of secret— and inter- 
ceptable— radio communications Since then, all knowledge that gives 
power is technology 

Weighed on a moral scale, the legacy of this time may therefore as a com- 
plete catastrophe. From a more knowledge-technological estimation, it is, 
rather, a quantum leap. This strategic escalation has led to the fact that today 
a historically incredible line of succession holds sway Living beings trans- 
mitted their hereditary information further and further, until millions of 
years later a mutation interrupted them. Cultures transmitted acquired, and 
thus not quite hereditary information ever further with the help of their 
storage media, until centuries later a technical innovation revolutionized the 
storage media themselves. C omputers, on the other hand, make it truly pos- 
sible to optimize storage and transmission in all their parameters for the first 
time. As a legacy of the Cold War, which coupled the mathematical prob- 
lems of data processing with the telecommunication problems of data trans- 
mission, they have produced rates of innovation which irrevocably surpass 
those of nature and cultures. Computing capacitiesof computer generations 
double, not over the course of millions of years, and not over hundreds of 
years, but every eighteen months (according to M oore's so-called empiri- 
cal— but as yet only affirmed— law). It is an implementation of knowledge 
which has already surpassed every attempt at its retelling. 
Nevertheless, three points can perhaps be emphasized. First, all the man- 
years of engineering work possible will no longer suffice for the designing of 
new computer architectures. Only the machines of the most up-to-date gen- 
eration are at all capable of sketching out the hardware of the coming gen- 
erations as a circuit diagram or transistor design. Second, all of the hard- 
ware to which such designs refer are is further stored in software libraries. 

Until Zip disks arrived, the main form 
of data conveyancing between 
macPiines were 1.4MB floppy disl<s. 
These were too small for data stor- 
age, and useful mainly as a way of 
working on documents between 
machines. Designers sometimes 
used tapes, but these were mainly 
limited to professionals. When 
100MB Zip disks were introduced, 
they were promoted as a portable 
storage medium, particularly for 
holding internet downloads. The 
Iomega catch-phrase was "For your 
stuff." With this medium, the content 
of the internet changed from hot 
data flows to cool data shelves. 
Images, programs, and audio could 
be gathered for use offline. 
Information became stuff. "Pepsi 
Stuff '97" was the drink manufactur- 
er's GeneratioNext campaign, pro- 
moted by sports stars. In the mode 
of frequent-flier points, purchase of 
Pepsi comes with credit that can be 
redeemed for "Pepsi Stuff," which 
includes sports clothing. Posters 
feature famous faces with the slo- 
gan "Get Stuff." This slogan is an icy 
reduction of the consumerist world- 
view. First, it has that violent edge 
demanded of the unbridled con- 
sumer id, telling the world to "get 
stuffed." Second, it enframes the 
world as substance for ingestion: 
stuff always waits, ready to be 
grabbed, ripped open, and thrown 
down some orifice. Slam dunk. Stuff 
never speaks. You get it or you 
don't One of the lists circulating 
around the internet currently is the 
"Stuff of religion": here the world's 
faiths are reduced to the attitude 
toward stuff. So Taoism translates 
as "Stuff happens," Catholicism 
claims "If stuff happens, I deserve 
it," and atheism goes 'There is no 
stuff." No doubt Heidegger would 
add "Stuff stuffs." Like a B-grade 
horror movie, "Revenge of Stuff" ter- 
rorizes idylls of poetic being, coagu- 
lating thought into huge sticky 
masses of crispy-fried fizzy-fluffy 
humongous awesome-cool cnjnchy 
stuff! The problem with stuff is that 
it's all the same stuff, not different 
stuff, so the stuff in your head does- 
n't do interesting stuff anymore. And 
the stuff people do to say stuff to 
each other doesn't have any of the 
meaning stuff that gives stuff its stuff 
in the first place. So, as the taxider- 
mist says, "Stuff it." [Kevin Murray 
(}, Theory Stuff, 
Tue, 8 Sep 1998 21:04:36 -HOOO.] 


which themselves indicate or display not merely their electronic data and 
boundaries but even the production process. Technical drawing is no longer 
a drifting abstraction, as once in printed books, dreferring to devices whose 
possibility or impossibility (in the case of the perpetual motion machine) 
must first be proven in the process of building. It now indistinguishably coin- 
cides with a machine that itself is a technical drawing, in microscopic layers 
of silicon and silicon dioxide. However, third and lastly the hardware of 
today thereby brings together two previously separated knowledge systems: 
media technology and the library 

0 n the one hand, computer hardware functions like a library making possi- 
ble the storage and retrieval of data under definable addresses. 0 n the other 
hand, it makes possible the same mathematical operations with these data 
that have been part of technical analog media since the nineteenth century 
operations that, however, have fundamentally vanished from traditional 
libraries From this combination, the management of knowledge results in a 
double gain of efficiency To the same extent that the analog media appear 
one after another in theU niversal Discretely achine, their former chaos also 
falls under an ordering of universal addressing that first truly enables the 
knowing of images or sounds 0 r, the other way round, to the degree that it 
appears in binary code, writing gainsthe enormous power to do what it says 
It is no accident that what we call in ordinary speech a statement is called, in 
programming language, a command. Whatever technical drawing simply 
puts before the eyes effectively takes place. 


It is possible that from this short sketch, which does not even come close to 
doing justice to the complexity of today's hardware, the vast migration that 
knowledge has experienced and will yet continue to experience does indeed 
emerge. M ichael Giesecke, in his study on book printing of the early mod- 
ern era, was able to use the triumphal procession of electronic information 
technology as a methodological model in order to be able to estimate 
Gutenberg's leap of innovation quantitatively On the other hand, such a 
process does not work in reverse. N o past leap of innovation can provide the 
measure for that which is currently occurring. If so-called intellectual work 
on the one side and its objects of study on the other are as a whole trans- 
ferred to machines the self-definition of European modernity understand- 
ing thought as an attribute of subjectivity, is at vulnerable. This is not the 
time or place to discuss in detail the results of this occurence for a society 
that blithely banishes machines and programs out of its consciousness and 
must be immediately retrained. Because it is about implemented knowledge, 
and not implemented strategy the resultsof that migration for universities as 
institutionalized places of knowledge remain urgent. 
At first viewing, there are reasons that the university can be satisfied. First of 
all, the principle circuit diagram of the Universal Discrete Maschine 
appeared in an unprepossessing dissertation that counted human beings and 
machines regardless of any differences as paper machines Secondly, the 
implementation of thissimpleand useless paper machine, first put into oper- 
ation using tubes later with transistors also took place at that elite U.S. uni- 


versity which structured the World War 1 1 as a sorcerer's war. T hird, the cir- 
cumstances of this birth have already made it sure that the Pentagon, in 
order to be equipped for the case of an atomic attack, did not only diversify 
its command centers over numerous states, but also had to linl< with them the 
elite colleges from which the hard- and software employed first originated. 
As Bernard Siegert has pointed out to me, long before the internet was pro- 
moted as the Utopia of radical democrats and the delight of features editors, 
it was already a university postal system in precisely the historical sense of 
the early modern coupling of state and university postal systems, such as in 
the France of H enry III. The difference being that in the internet, in defi- 
ance of all those Utopias, scholars do not exchange their findings or docu- 
ments, but computers transmit their bits and bytes (Which is not even to 
speal< of the radical democratic forums of discussion.) Every l<nowledge sys- 
tem has its corresponding medium of transmission, which is why the elec- 
tronic networks are best understood as first the emanation of the silicon 
hardware itself, as the planetary expansion and spread of— of all things— the 
epitome of miniaturized technology In this respect, universities had better 
chances under high-tech conditions precisely because their origins are older, 
more mobile, and more integrated than those of teritorial or national states 
It is precisely their proximity to computer technology however, that makes it 
difficult for universities to be equipped. Wholly apart from the economic 
shifts that, in the meantime, have made the design of new hardware genera- 
tions into a billion dollar business for a few companies, established academic 
knowledge, along with its implementation, also has theoretical deficiencies 
In the pattern of the four faculties that still survives its many reformers, there 
was from the very beginning no place for media technicians as they explicite- 
ly arose out of the modern alphabet and number systems For this reason, 
technical knowledge, after a long path through royal societies royal acade- 
mies and military engineering schools, all of which circumvented the univer- 
sities, finally reached the technical colleges, the prototypes of which at the 
time of the French Revolution were not accidentally called schools for pow- 
der and saltpeter This odor of sulphur frightened the old universities so 
much that they wanted to refuse the technical colleges the right of promotion 
to doctoral degrees And it was first the life's work of the great mathemati- 
cian Felix K lein, who compensated for his extinguished genius with organi- 
zational talent, that in the G erman Reich prevented science and technology 
universities and schools of engineering, from taking fully separate ways In 
the garden of the M athematical Institute at Goettingen, as the first physics 
laboratory in the history of German universities, a couple of cheap sheds 
appeared, out of which emerged all of quantum mechanics and the atomic 
bombs David H ilbert, K lein's successor to the professorship, was thus dou- 
bly refuted. H is theory that no hostility exists between mathemeticians and 
engineers simply because there is no relationship between them at all was 
overshadowed by world developments, and his hypothesis that all mathemat- 
ical A. can be decided was pushed aside by Alan Turing's computer proto- 
type (Andrew H odges, Alan Turing: T he E nigma, NY, 1983). 
Since then, all knowledge, even the mathemetician's most abstract, is techni- 
cally implemented. If "the nineteenth century" to use Nietzsche's wicked 


phrasing, was a "victory of tlie scientific metliod over science" then our cen- 
tury will be the one that saw the victory of scientific technology over science 
("Nachgdas5eneFragmenteAnfangl888 bisj anuar 1889," Works, vol. 8.3, 236). In 
exactly this way over a century ago, the physicist Peter M ittelstaedt 
described it as state of the art, though not without experiencing the passion- 
ate animosity of his colleagues Even in the nineteenth century according to 
|V| ittelstaedt, every experimental scientist worked lil<e a transcendental 
apperception, in the Kantian sense, incarnate. The data of the sensory 
impression (to stay with Kant's phraseology), flowed to the senses, where- 
upon the understanding and the faculty of judgment could synthesize this 
flow of data into a generally valid natural law. In contrast, today's experi- 
mental physics claims that stochastic processes which occur far beneath any 
threshhold of perception are received, first of all, by sensors that digitalize 
them and transmit them to high-performance computers W hat the physicist 
achieves, finally with his this human-machine interface, is scarcely "nature" 
anymore, but, as H eidegger put it in, "T he Q uestion of Technology" a "sys- 
tem of information," the "ordering" and mathematical modeling of which 
has itself been taken over by computer technology The result of this is 
M ittelstaedt's compelling conclusion that transcendental apperception, also 
referred to as knowledge, has simply abdicated. 
With this abdication, in part because with solid-state physics it made possi- 
ble the hardware of today physics really takes on merely the role of a fore- 
runner. If the spirit of the philosophers itself, in H egel's great words in the 
opening of T he Phenomenology of the Spirit, is "only as deep as it dares to spread 
and to lose itself in its interpretation," though this explicit interpretation 
would be unthinkable without a storage medium, the formerly so-called 
humanities (Geisteswissensdiaften) are no less affected. T he fact that they show 
a readiness to drop their old name and in its place to take on the name of 
cultural sciences (Kulturwissenschaften) appears to encompassa renunciation of 
transcendental apperception, namely the equally hermeneutic and recursive 
"knowing of that which is known" (P. A. Boeckh, E nzyklopadieund M ethodologie 
der philologischen W issenschaften, 2d ed., Leipzig, 1886). Cultural science, in case 
this term doesn't remain a fashionable word, can surely only mean that the 
facts which make up integral cultures, the investigation of which istherefore 
fixed, are in and of themselves technologies; they are, furthermore— in the 
harsh words of M arcel M auss— cultural technologies When texts, images, 
and sounds are no longer considered the impulses of brilliant individuals but 
are seen as the output of historically specified writing, reading, and comput- 
ing technologies, much will already have been gained. Only when the cul- 
tural sciences, over and above this, begin to use contemporary logarithms to 
coordinate all the writing, reading and computing that history has seen will 
it have proved the truth of its renaming T he legacy of these times is cer- 
tainly not only to be found in archives and data records, which are inherited 
by every age, but also in those which it passes down to coming generations 
If the knowledge that is handed down, then, does not become recoded and 
made compatible with the universal medium of the computer, it will be 
threatened by a foreseeable oblivion. It is quite possible that Goethe, that 
totem animal of all the G erman literary sciences, has long since ceased to be 


at home in Weimar arcliives, but liastal<en residence at tlie U.S. university ......,„,,.,. 

tliat lias most exiiaustibly scanned-in liis writings— an institute tliat, not in ■"€;",„.„,..... 

vain, was founded by M ormons, and so for tlie eternity of tlie resurrected. L::::p"::p;;:rU 
Tlieapocatastasispanton need notliurry as silicon-based calculation and trans- !fSf -ill,.!.,, 

mission still lack the sufficient storage. Even now, physical parameters are not «p-:..,.....v, 

capable of authenticating the event of the recording per se. That which is 
valid for archives and storage facilities is, for that reason, all the more valid 

Fri, 22 «U5 US? ll!25i2S -B7B9 (TOT) 

for the knowledge technologies and categories In Gutenberg's time there 
were French monasteries in which handwriting was so deeply rooted that 
they searched through all three hundred copies of their first printed missal 
book for copying mistakes In Fichte'stime, and much to his derision, there 
were professors whose lectures would "re-compose the world's store of book 
knowledge" although it was clearly to be found "already printed before the 
eyes of everyone" (J. G. Fichte, "Deducierter Plan einer zu Berlin zu errichtenden 
hoheren Lehranstalt," in Sammtliche Werke, vol. 8, Berlin, 1845, 98). Knowledge 
practices that even today adhere to book knowledge in computer illiteracy 
and misuse a technology that sits on every writing desk as merely a better 
kind of typewriter are no less anachronistic. Indeed, even the lectures in 
video conferences and internet seminars, currently being attempted in many 
places, presumably bring necessary but still insufficient changes 0 nly when 
the categories that are implemented in computers, meaning the algorithms 
and data structures, are elevated to utilization asguidesfor— precisely— cul- 
ture-scientific research will their relationship to the hard sciences be anything 
more than the shock absorber or compensation for the evil results of tech- 
nology that has been favored since the time of 0 do M arquardt. 
The unique opportunity to bridge the chasm between both cultures stems 
from technology itself. For the first time since the differentiation of libraries 
and laboratories, the natural sciences again work, insofar as they have 
become technical sciences, in one and the same medium as the cultural sci- 
ences Soon, the network of machines will have filed texts and formulas, past 
and future projects, catalogues and hardware libraries in a uniform format 
under uniform addresses If it succeeds from that point in articulating the 
cultural and natural sciences to one another, the university will have a future. 


T his articulation, perhaps, can be expressed with the formula that the cul- 
tural sciences will no longer be able to exclude calculation in the name of 
their timeless truth, and the natural sciences will no longer beableto exclude 
memory in the name of their timeless logic or efficiency They must learn 
from one another in ways that are precisely reversed: the one to make use of 
calculation, the other of the memory Only if that which is to be passed 
down historically is so formalized that it even remains capable of being 
handed down under high-tech conditions does it produce an archive of pos- 
sibilities that may be able to claim, in its great variety no lesser a protection 
of species than that of plants or animals T he other way round, the techno- 
logical implementations in which formerly so-called nature crystallizes begin 
to be more than ever in danger of forgetting, along with their origins, their 
reason for being. Even now there are vast quantities of data which are sim- 


ply unreadable because the computers that once wrote them can no longer 
be made to run. Without memory— and this means without a history that 
also explicitly places machines under the protection of species— the legacy 
of this time in history then, cannot be passed on to the coming generations 
Only when the natural sciences stop dismissing their history in terms of 
being a forerunner will that same history begin to appear as a scattering of 
alternatives The fact that even Stanford U niversity is preparing to collect 
the half-forgotten private archives of all the Silicon Valley companies could 
very soon have a rescuing effect— if not for human lives, then certainly for 
programs upon which human lives (not only in the airbus) increasingly 

The historicity of technologies does not encompass, but rather excludes, 
sticking to the saddest legacy of all so-called intellectual history K nowledge 
can exist without the copyright. When Goethe, in January of 1825, strongly 
suggested the "favorable conclusion" to a "high" German "national assem- 
bly" that he be able "to draw mercantile advantage" "from his intellectual 
production" "for himself and those of his dependents," the development of 
a privatization that in the meantime has spread to even formulas and equa- 
tions was initiated ("Brief an die Deutsche Bunds-Versammlung," November 1, 
1825, in Briefe und Tagebiicher, Leipzig, vol. 2, 422). Gene technological and 
related computer supported procedures are patented, while the currently 
fastest primary number algorithm— in contrast with four centuries of free 
mathematics— remains an operational secret of the Pentagon (D. 
H errmann, Algorithmen-Arbeitsbuch, Bonn, 1992, 4). Turing's proof that every- 
thing which humanscan compute can also betal<en over by machines hasup 
to now had so little effect in an economy of l<nowledge that, not only at the 
disadvantage of its transmission capacity systematically disables more than 
only the universities Clearly our inherited ideas are a long waysfrom reach- 
ing the level of today's hardware, the manufacturing equipment of which 
costs billions, and the manufacturing price of which, in contrast, crashes 
downward. It can be expected of hardware, and only of hardware, that it 
will one day drive out the apparition of the copyright. 
T hat, however, is bitterly necessary All of the myths that are constantly con- 
jured up, which lil<e the copyright or creativity define l<nowledge as the 
immaterial act of a subject, as the software of a wetware, do nothing more 
than hinder only its implementation. It may be the case that, in past times 
when the infrastructure of l<nowledgelay in books, thQ^even had a function. 
Jean Paul's brilliant but dirt-poor Wuz, in any case, who could not afford to 
pay for any books, could himself write his library Today such lists would be 
condemned to failure. C omputer technology offers not merely an infrastruc- 
ture for knowledge, which could be replaced by other, more costly or time- 
consuming procedures Rather, computer technology provides a hardware 
whose efficiency itself earns the name software compatibility. It is, then, in 
contrast to all the current theories that have only pictured technology as a 
prosthesis or tool, an inevitability. 

T his may not please nation states and scientists T he doctrine, particularly 
favored in Germany doctrine, that the communicative reason, formerly also 
called the peace of God, is higher than the instrumental, in the end costs 


much less. It is probably for this reason that the siren songs of a discourse 
theory that has no terms at all of time and archive meet such open ears in 
high offices (N. Luhmann, "Systemtheoretische Argumentationen," in J. Habermas 
and N . L uhmann, T heorie der G sdlschaft oder Sozialtechnologie, Frankfurt, 1971, 
336ff.). As places of communicative reason, universities did not have the 
slightest need for hardware. They got along with just that garden on the 
north edge of Athens, where Plato once dropped the seed of all higher things 
in the soil of his young boys The short history of European universities 
should have shown, on the other hand, that knowledge is not to be had with- 
out technology and that technology is not to be reduced to instruments 
M oreover, the anonymity of knowledge, for which Alan Turing gave his life, 
makes it ever more impossible to decide whether major states will continue 
as before to be responsible for knowledge institutions such as universities 
0 ne thing is certain, however: it will be decided, regarding the legacy of this 
time, who set up which hardware when. 

[For David Hauptmann, sysop of my professorship, laid off by the Berlin 


DATE: THU, 6 AUG 1998 12:49:49 +0100 

"At the end of the day it's all about trying to keep the console alive instead 
of letting people forget about it and have it fade into obscurity." — Andrew 
"Raven" Coleman, 21, London 

For a while now, old, long-outdated video game consoles of the eighties such 
as the Atari 2600 or the Vectrex have been enjoying something of a renais- 
sance T hey've found their way into the canon of good taste; a multitude of 
records and T-shirts are testimony to that. PC emulators for old school games 
are being introduced everywhere with verve, as if every reviewer has to prove 
his or her proper socialization with the holy trinity of Pong, Space I nvaders, 
and Donkey Kong But the nostalgic and sentimental enthusiasm for the cute 
little games of yore is being played out on another level as well. Strategies are 
also being developed for saving the endangered artifacts of digital culture 
A particularly charming console, M ilton Bradley's (M B) Vectrex, has become 
the darling of retro gamers Vectrex was the system every kid wished for but 
never got because it was too expensive. It appeared on the market in 1982, 
a single console with a built-in monitor. The main attraction of this mini- 
arcade was that the screen featured not pixels (as a television does), but vec- 
tors Razor sharp lines, unfettered by raster points, can be scaled at lighten- 
ing speed, and this is what jettisoned Vectrex into the pantheon of arcades 
games, right up there with Tempest, Space Wars, and Asteroids To keep 


costs down, M B decided on a black-and-white screen, but nevertheless want- 
ed to bring a little color into the game as well. So every game came with col- 
ored filters one could stick in front of the screen, giving the game a unique 
aesthetic. In short, Vectrex was abstract modernist funk. 
A quarter of a century later, Vectrex is still around and is, in fact, more alive 
than ever. Tom Sloper, who programmed the killer games Spike and Bedlam 
for the Vectrex and has since designed around eighty games on just about 
every imaginable platform for Activision, beams, "M yold Vectrex-era cohorts 
and I are astounded that there is now a thriving community of Vectrex fans, 
that there are people creating new Vectrex software and cartridges" 
No small feat. The computer and entertainment industries thrive on amne- 
sia, full speed ahead to the future, with no looking back. Every sixteen 
months, the power of processors doubles, and the storage capacity for digi- 
tal media is all but unlimited. 0 ne would think that these would be terrific 
times for the preservation of the output of our civilization. 
Hardly The rancid cartridges and obscure consoles crammed together at 
flea markets could serve as a metaphor for a looming informational disaster. 
I n the shift from atoms to bits, any digitally stored information for which we 
no longer have instruments with which to read itwill become indecipherable. 
But for how long can these rows of zeros and ones actually bestored? At the 
beginning of the year, an industry-sponsored study by the National M edia 
I nstitute in St. Paul was released that examined the life expectancies of dig- 
ital media. The study put an end to the myth of eternal storage. At room 
temperatures, magnetic tapes can be expected to last for just twenty years, 
while CD -RO M s vary in their durability between ten and fifty years 
But even if magnetic tapesare still intact, the instruments necessary for them 
to be of any use have often already been tossed onto the silicon heap of his- 
tory "Imagine an encyclopedia program that only runs on Windows 2.0," 
says Tom Sloper, describing a typical situation. "Somebody would have to 
havea machine with Windows2.0, with an appropriate CPU and the appro- 
priate audio and video cards and drivers, in order to run the software." 
Strategies for salvaging obsolete hardware and software are beginning to 
evolve. The most refurbished of models will turn up after all in the video 
game community, whose members might merely be trying to revive their 
childhood memories, but who are also at the same time developing a blue- 
print for dealing with obsolescence in general. It's these people who lovingly 
scan in old manuals or upload onto the net the source code of games or the 
smallest detail of the cartridge design of their favorite platform. 
T hey're creating an infrastructure that makes it possible for, say the 21-year- 
old Londoner, Andrew Coleman, to program a new Vectrex game called 
"Spike goes Skiing" (Spike was the M ario of the Vectrex universe). "I think it's 
great what people are doing to try and help preserve the whole 'culture,'" says 
Coleman. "The archives that are out there on the Internet hold just about 
every game written for every classic system, including arcade machines" 
And what about hardware? If the Vectrex hasn't gone the way of the E.T. 
poster on the wall in the romper room, the machine is worth a very tidy sum 
indeed. "Let's face it, the average life expectancy of a microchip is about 50 
years After that enough of the silicon will have oxidized to render it unus- 


able," says Coleman, and goes on to predict that, "In 40 years time there will 
probably be only a handful of working Vectrex machines and games in the 
whole world. I thinl< that the emulation scene is the only hope really for keep- 
ing these games playable. At the moment, there are emulators for the PC that 
will let you play just about any old game on a standard computer. T he emu- 
lators and game files can easily be backed up and transferred onto new media 
over the years so there's no reason that these games should be lost." C oleman 
concludesy "T here are literally thousands of games out there that took a great 
deal of work to produce in thefirst place I don't want to see all that work lost." 
U.S. computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg of the RAND think tank has been 
addressing the problem of loss of digital data to obsolescence. As early as 
1992, he proposed the use of emulation "as a way of retaining the original 
meaning, behavior, and feel of obsolete digital documents." And sees his 
efforts validated in theDlY video game emulators "I see the use of emula- 
tion in the video game community as a 'natural experiment' that suggests— 
though it doesn't prove- the viability of this approach. Nevertheless, the 
success of the video game community provides significant evidence for the 
ultimate viability of the emulation approach to preservation." 
Learning from old-school video games, then, can also mean learning how to 
preserve a culture "I think the Vectrex community shows us that with some 
dedication and cooperation among people with similar interests," Vectrex vet- 
eran Tom Sloper adds Yoda-I ike, "old software and hardware need not die." 



<72722. 3 1 57 @ COM PUSERVE. COM >) 
DATE: SAT, 29 AUG 1998 16:46:21 -0400 

Two technological revolutions are currently taking place T he first and most 
hyped is the revolution in information and communications technologies 
(ICT). The second is the revolution in biotechnology. While the former 
seems to be rapidly enveloping the lives of more and more people, the latter 
appears to be progressing at a lower velocity in a specialized area outside of 
peoples' everyday lives In one sense, this general perception is true; ICT is 
more developed and more pervasive However, CAE would like to suggest 
that the developments in biotech are gaining velocity at a higher rate than 
those in ICT, and that biotechnology is having far greater impact on every- 
day life than it appears T he reason that ICT seems to be of such greater sig- 
nificance is less because of its material effect and more on account of its 
enveloping Utopian spectacle. Everyone has heard the promises about new 
virtual markets, electronic communities, total convenience, maximum enter- 


Did you everwatch yourself sitting in 
front of your computer wondering 
what was gonna happen when you 
turned it on? Wondering whether it 
was still gonna work as nicely once 
you ended the state of promised 
infonnation and actually started the 
damn machine? Ever since the data 
returned from the Voyager mission 
started decaying, we l<new that the 
future was not gonna be as glorious 
as promised no more. It was not 
gonna be possible to just download 
our brains and live in cyberspace all 
happily ever after. NASA's method 
tof refreezing the data on acid-free 
paper printouts won't change our 
feeling that the wonder years are 
over and we are facing the reality of 
Bit Rot. Or, as the Germans call it, 
Datenverwesung. Time's Up is dedi- 
cating all its research capabilities 
and efforts in order to change this 
horrible prospect. We see one solu- 
tion only to stop data from decaying: 
the MicroBit program. Time's Up 
researchers around the globe are 
working on the recognition of infor- 
mation before it is complete. Once 
we solve the problem of how to 
recombine two halfbits into one 
complete piece of information, we 
feel it will betime for us to move on 
and explore the world of de-informa- 
tion even further We see an emer- 
gence of the quarter-bit hard drive 
and the tenth-bit swappable inter- 
face. In a first step, we will start a 
program to at least freeze the BitRot 
before it starts evaporating current 
Data. We call on to everyone who is 
afraid of losing valuable information 
to turn it over to Time's Up, where 
we will turn it into information that it 
could have been. In order to further 
investigate the MicroBit solution and 
to preserve your data we will give 
you your option of deciding what it 
was that your data really wanted to 
be, or you can let the highly qualified 
technicians and research scientists 
at Time's U p determine the essential 
nature of your data's potential using 
the latest in bitrot recovery algo- 
rithms. Given that data is returning 
as we speak to some kind of 
Freudian primal ooze-state, we 
attempt to apply techniques of 
regression to discover other possi- 
ble parallel existences of your data. 
Developments are undenway, but to 
incorporate all possible methodolo- 
gies of bitrot reapprophation, we 
need your data and we need it now. 
Bit rot is not waiting for you, we 
shouldn't be either. Call now. [Time's 
Up <>, BitRot 
Program!, Thu, 11 J un 1998 10:22:44 

tainment value, global linkage, and electronic liberty, just to name a few. 
Indeed, this hype has brought a lot of consumers to ICT; however, this 
explicit spectacularized relationship with the technology has also brought 
about much skepticism born of painful experience. Those who work with 
ICT on a daily basis are becoming increasingly aware of office health prob- 
lems, work intensification, the production of invasive consumption and work 
spaces, electronic isolation, the collapse of public space, and so on. The 
problems being generated by ICT are as apparent as its alleged advantages, 
much as one can enjoy the transport advantages of an auto while at the same 
time suffering from the disadvantages of smogged-out urban sprawls. 
On the other hand, biotechnology has proceeded along a much different 
route. If ICT Is representative of spectacular product deployment, biotech- 
nology has been much more secretive about its progress and deployment. Its 
spectacle is limited to sporadic news reports on breakthroughs in some of the 
flagship projects, such as the unexpected rapidity of progress In the H uman 
Genome Project, with the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep (and now her 
daughter, Polly a recombinant lamb containing human DNA), or the birth 
of a donor-program baby to a sixty-three-year-old mother. Each of these 
events is contextual i zed within the legitimizing mantles of science and med- 
icine to keep the public calm; however, the biotech developers and 
researchers must walk a very fine line, because developments that go public 
can easily cause as much panicasthey do elation (just asthe aforementioned 
examples did). Consequently the biotech revolution is a silent revolution; 
even Its most mundane activities remain outside popular discourse and per- 
ception. For example, almost all people have eaten some kind of transgenic 
food (most likely without knowing it). Transgenic food production, while 
advantageous for producing Industrial quantities and qualities of food, is not 
a big selling point that marketers want to promote, because there is a deeply 
entrenched, historically founded popular suspicion (emerging from both sec- 
ular and religious beliefs) of anything that could be construed as bioengi- 
neering U nfortunately this very sort of research and development is pro- 
gressing without contestation, and (to make matters more surprising) there 
are strong links between developments in biotech and ICT. 


From the opening salvos of the Enlightenment to the envelopment of the 
world in capital, the machinic model of systems has always held an impor- 
tant place in illustrating Western values. Machinic systems exemplify the 
manifest values that emerge from capitalist economy When a state-of-the-art 
machine runs well, it produces at maximum efficiency never strays from its 
task, and its engineering Is completely intelligible. I s it any wonder that some 
people in the socioeconomic context of pancapitalism desire to be machines, 
and cannot understand any phenomenon (the cosmos, society, the body, and 
so on) as being other than a machine? 

Machinic task orientation and the coordination and synchronization of 
machinic units into functioning systems require a means of "communica- 
tion," and that system has come to beunderstood as coding. Among thelega- 
cies of late capital, with its fetish for instrumentality is its obsession with the 


code. The common belief seems to be that if codes can be invented, stream- 
lined, or cracked, ipso facto, humanity will be all the better for it. 
Consequently, an army of code-builders and crackers have set to work to 
understand and/ or control the world through the use of this model. Software 
programmersare perhaps the best known of these researchers, but the model 
extends to all things not just machines proper, and so the code analysts, gen- 
erators, and crackers have found their way into all areas of research. In cul- 
ture there are those who work tirelessly to understand, develop, or break the 
codes of the social text in its many variations T hen there are the those who 
examine organic code It has not been broken yet, but researchers have made 
progress The DNA code has been isolated, and is now being analyzed and 
mapped (the H uman G enome Project). W hile such knowledge is quite com- 
pelling in itself, one must wonder how that knowledge will be contextualized 
and applied after it leaves the sanctuary of the lab. If the reductive instru- 
mental value system that accompanies the machinic model is applied to 
genetic codes (and one must assume it will be), the conflation of the organic 
and the machinic will be become more than just an ideological model; it will 
be a material construction. Like the computer, organic systems will be engi- 
neered to reflect the utilitarian values of pancapitalism. 
Using the model of the code as a link, one sees that the two ideologies key to 
the development of late capital are imploding. 0 ne is the machinic system 
just described, and the other is the ideology of social "evolution." T his rad- 
ically authoritarian ideology has found expression in mid-nineteenth-centu- 
ry social Darwinism, in early twentieth-century eugenics, in Kevin Kelly's 
neo-Spencerian global free markets, and in Richard Dawkins's memetic 
information culture Now functioning in a magical moment of Orwellian 
doublethink, these two ideological pressures are directing research along a 
political trajectory toward a totalizing utilitarianism that will give rise to a 
fully disenchanted cyborg society of the "fittest." 


When imagining the cyborg society of the near future, considering the rapid- 
ity of ICT development within the context of pancapitalism is only half the 
task. T he question "Who is going to use the technology?" becomes increas- 
ingly significant. ICT has pushed the velocity of market vectors to such an 
extreme that humans immersed in technoculture can no longer sustain 
organic equilibrium. Given the pathological conditions of the electronic 
workspace, the body often fails to meet the demands of its technological 
interface or the ideological imperatives of socioeconomic space Feelings of 
stress, tension, and alienation can compel the organic platform to act out 
nonrational behavior patterns that are perceived by power vectors to be use- 
less, counterproductive, and even dangerous to the technological superstruc- 
ture In addition, the body can only interact with ICT for a limited period of 
time before exhaustion, and work is constantly disrupted by libidinal impuls- 
es M any strategies have been used by pancapitalist institutions in an attempt 
to keep the body producing and consuming at maximum intensity, but most 
fail. 0 ne strategy of control is the use of legitimized drugs Sedatives, anti- 
depressants, and mood stabilizers are used to bring the body back to a nor- 


malized state of being and to prevent disruption of collective activity. (For 
example, 600,000 new prescriptions were written in the U.S. for Prozac in 
1993, and this number has continued to advance throughout the decade, 
ending in a grand total of 22.8 million in 1998). U nfortunately, social con- 
trol drugs often rapidly lose their effectiveness, and can damage the platform 
before it completes its expected productive lifespan. 
I n order to bring the body up to code and prepare it for the rapidly chang- 
ing pathological social conditions of technoculture, a pancapitalist institu- 
tional subapparatus with l<nowledge specializations in genetics, cell biology 
neurology, biochemistry pharmacology embryology and so on have begun 
an aggressive body invasion. T heir intention is to map and rationalize the 
body in a manner that will allow the extention of authoritarian policies of 
fiscal and social control into organic space. We l<now this network as the flesh 
machine. Its primary mandate is eventually to design and engineer organic 
constellations with predispositions toward certain task-oriented activities, 
and to create bodies better suited to extreme technological interaction. The 
need to redesign the body to meetdromological imperatives (whether in war- 
fare, business, or communications) has been prompted by the ICT revolu- 
tion. ICT developers must now wait for the engineering gap between ICT 
and its organic complement to close; because of this, ICT development is 
slowing down (thewebwasthe last high-velocity moment in the popular ICT 
revolution) compared to the rate at which investment and research in 
biotechnological processes and products for humans is growing. CAE 
believesthat while we will continue to see ICT upgrades (such as in band- 
width) and further technological development in domestic space, radically 
significant change in the communication and information technology of 
everyday life will not take place until the gap between the technology and its 
organic platform is closed. 


Given the entrenched skepticism about bioengineering, what would make an 
individual embrace reproductive technologies (the most extreme form of 
biotech)? For the same reasons people rushed to embrace new ICT. In the 
predatory antiwelfare market of pancapitalism, a belief has been construct- 
ed and promoted that one must seek any advantage to survive its pathologi- 
cal socioeconomic environment. The extremes that function in the best 
interest of pancapitalist power vectors instantly transform into the common 
in a society that only profits from perpetual increases in economic velocity. 
At the same time, the institutional foundation that produces the desire for 
bioengineering has blossomed in late capital. The eugenic visionary 
Frederick 0 shorn recognized that more hospitable conditions for eugenic 
policy were emerging in capitalist nations as early as the thirties 0 shorn 
argued that the people would never accept eugenics if it were forced on them 
by militarized directives; rather, eugenic practices would have to structurally 
emerge from capitalist economy The primary social components that would 
make eugenic behavior voluntary are the dominance of the nuclear family 
within a rationalized economy of surplus Under these conditions, 0 shorn 


predicted, familial reproduction would become a matter of quality rather 
than a matter of quantity (as with the extended family). Q uality of offspring 
would be defined by the child's potential for economic success. To assure suc- 
cess, breeders (particularly of the middle class) would be willing to purchase 
any legitimized medical goods and services to increase the probability of 
"high-quality" offspring The economy would recognize this market, and 
provide goods and services for it. T hese conditions have come to pass, and 
the development of these goods and services is well underway. Of course, 
they only appear when one searches for them. 

Without question, there is a strong intersection between the technology of 
the sight machine (ICT) and the technology of the flesh machine, much as the 
organic and the synthetic are necessary complements. Development in one 
machine system hasa profound influence on development in the other. T h^ 
merge under the value system of instrumentality So in spite of the cyber- 
hype claims that the body is obsolete, and about to give way to post-human 
virtualization, it seemsthebodyishere to stay. Why should capital refuse this 
opportunity— the greatest marl<et bonanza since colonization, and the best 
method of self-policing since Catholic guilt? U nfortunately the body of the 
future will not be the liquid, free-forming body that yields to individual 
desire; rather, it will be a solid entity whose behaviors are fortified by tasl<- 
oriented technological armor interfacing with ideologically engineered flesh. 

[An elaboration of this argument is in Flesh M achine (NY: Autonomedia/ 
Semiotext[e], 1997), or the abbreviated version, "The Coming of Age of the 
Flesh M achine," in T. Druckrey, ed., Electronic Culture, NY: perture, 1997.] 

DRIVER CA. 1998 



DATE: WED, 14 XT 1998 11:52:27 +0100 

0 n G reat Windmill Street, just around the corner from the bubble behemoth 
of SegaWorld, a humbler M ecca has been putting down itswire roots This one 
is named Wonderpark and is the brainchild of competitors Namco. 

1 nterestingly enough, Wonderpark is a different kettle of fish altogether from its 
neighbor Where going to Segaworld is all in all, a pretty antisocial experience 
(destined to ensure it most-favored status with families everywhere), 
Wonderpark feels like a teenage promenade gone mad. Coke- and change- 
machines oiling the general interaction, this is hormone intensity of a totally 
different order: gangs of girls play on the Shrinky Dink photobooths gangs of 
boys on the fighting games and, just to piss Barbie off, roles are regularly 
reversed— girls slugging it out to the death. No one could harbor the illusion 


that Wonderpark isn't part of the same engineered reality, though. Your wall<- 
through is totally choreographed: easy escalators in and shadowy stairs out, 
banks of driving-simulation machines flanking the big attractions like a defen- 
sive military regiment (lest you escape without playing and paying) and wall-to- 
wall CCTV and security guardSy keeping the kids in sight, and in line, at all 
times But, somewhere inside this ring of steel, there are cracks They are, to 
state the obvious, provided by the games themselves 
Wonderpark's most popular games by a long stroke are the Tekken deriva- 
tives— descendants of N amco's classic early-nineties fighting game where one 
character of the player's choice battles it out against another (either played "by 
the machine" or by another player). Whereas three years ago, the character 
selection consisted of about four men and four women, all appropriately myth- 
ical and manga-esque, the contemporary offering spans about fifty subspecies 
ostensibly tweaked to accommodate every need and creed (allDeit dutifully 
0 rientalized). Where early Tekken fights were conducted on a flat plain in an 
ethereal nowhere land (the proverbial end of the world), the latest ones are 
plonked down in a bizarre assortment of "realistic" locations You could, for 
example, end up with a beefy, blond, 0 riental boxing hero fighting a basketball 
lookalike of the A-Team's B. A. Barracus on a nameless American city street 
with onlookers and fast cars thrown in for realism's sake Behind you would 
stand a C hinese business man shifting from one foot to another, his shirt dan- 
gling out of his trousers and his briefcase disheveled from overuse, while next to 
him an up-for-it cheerleader would jump up and down ad infinitum, egging you 
on in a self-imposed trance. Behind you, cars would screech by, wait for traffic 
lights to turn from red to green and go about their business on an eternal loop- 
de-loop like everything, and everyone, else. 

Speed of response, compulsive logic problems, dynamic complexity and the 
elusive "gameplay" being the prime drivers of most games (or at least of the 
successful ones) the importance of their graphic environments— and even char- 
acters—can be overestimated. Background scenarios such as the one described 
above melt away next to the foreground activity. If the fighting itself wasn't get- 
ting better, faster, more seamlessly integrated with the hand-eye dynamics of the 
player, the Tekken derivatives would be standing around, just as lonely as all the 
other unpopular games in Wonderpark. Place classics like PONG, Tetris or 
Pac-M an next to some of the more recent, graphics-heavy candidates and the 
former "basic" ones will win hands-down every time (no pun intended). The 
current tendency toward "realism" and enhanced graphics that cuts across 
games genres as diverse as ski-simulations and fighting games (and which, 
beyond gaming, impacts on every single pixel of the graphical user interface- 
be that of M acsor PCs) seems inversely proportional to the thought being put 
into the question of where— or under which phenomenological and technologi- 
cal/ systemic conditions— good gameplay occurs. T he fact that simulation and 
fighting games are the most popular by far merely points to the fact that the 
area where this has been most successfully considered is propulsive physical 
movement. Whether it's blasting your way through a dungeon, succe^ully 
negotiating a moving train and jumping onto another one while shooting your 
opponents straight to hell, or driving at 200 mph through a deserted city the 
parameters of virtual and concrete architectures are relatively simply aligned. 


T he no-holds-barred propulsion forward— and back— merely subject to far less 
friction than it would in the world of the concrete (and therefore so attractive to 
tired urbanitesthe world over). 

You don't need to be a disciple of "computer visionaries" such as Brenda Laurel 
to see something cathartic (her term) is going on in many of the most popular 
games H er erstwhile singling-out of games in discussions of computers repre- 
sentation, and "meaningful" dramatic action would no doubt be repeated were 
she to survey the contemporary terrain. Whereas the VR industry stumbles 
around in search of a gratifying (read: lucrative) object, games have raged 
ahead in their exploration of, for want of a better word, the virtual. Even over 
as short a span as the past two years, the fast-developing ethos surrounding their 
effects on the body and the user's relationship to the world can— still— be 
gleaned from their incredible advertising campaigns A couple of years ago, the 
opening of Segaworld saw Sega's blithe identification with the "extreme" mind- 
altering signifiers of drugs and hormones (the architecture of this M ecca will 
continue to stand as a testament to this specific point in time); elsewhere, com- 
panies like Sony even went so far as to advertise the PlayStation as a full-on 
intervention in the 0 ccidental rationalist paradigm— the ads ran as a Zen mas- 
ter's, PlayStation-aided, hack of TV: Western media ^mbol par excellence). 
N ow, in 1998, a strange pragmatism has set in, here as in many other areas of 
computing G one are the claims to paradigm-busting G one are the claims to 
mental dissolution, cortex rewiring, or entire escapes from reality aided and 
abetted by the power of the machine In their place have come hesitant, iron- 
ic, acknowledgments of the frictious relationship between the phenomenologi- 
cal interactions of "real life" and those of game space: N intendo 64's latest ad, 
tagged with the mantra "Feel Everything" has a player making mistakes in his 
handling of "real" scenariost "real"— and often very basic— physical interac- 
tionsdueto hisoverfamiliarity with another set of phenomenological standards 
those generated by the machine 

The paranoid paraphernalia accompanying many games in Wonderpark and 
Segaworld certainly pays testament to a crisis of sorts Simulation games espe- 
cially are creating some interesting by-products Construct a taxonomy of the 
modern gaming arcade and the main growth area seemsto be awkward, clunky 
objects that go in-betwan. Consequently we now have a burgeoning morpholo- 
gy of padded armrests safety railings ski poles pooltables bowling alleys card- 
board icicles, model airplanes and outsized footpedals Their raison d'etre is 
cushioning the physical (or ocular) transition between the analog/ object world 
and that of the digital/ screen. At the same time, they function to convince users 
that times haven't changed: you're still doing the same thing really. .your body 
hasn't changed, your adrenaline levels haven't changed, it's just that bit more 
dark in here and you need to be wired up to do it. It is hard not to see this push- 
me-pull-me game of denial, engagement, submission, and rejection as a far 
more interesting development than that positing a radical ontological break 
with the world that was popular a few years back. At Wonderpark, the cracks 
in the ring of steel might be widening, attracting hordes of teenagers every 
weekend to their paranoid, greedy hosts, but after the teens leave they go home, 
stepping on the cracks of the pavement instead. 0 utside, "a hole in the wall" 
remains the only way you're going to get any cash. 



DATE: SUN, 20 SEP 1998 04:24:41 +0200 

On June 2, 1997, John Perry Barlow— frequent-flyer, sometime Grateful 
Dead lyricist, and bearded prophet of our Divine Assumption into acosmic 
web of psychic Oobleck (the "physical wiring of collective human con- 
sciousness" into a "collective organism of mind")— posted a note to Nettime 
(J. Zaieski, The Soul of Cyberspace, NY: HarperEdge, 1997, 46, 48). In it, he 
opined that "nature is itself a free market system. A rain forest is an 
unplanned economy, as is a coral reef." In the next breath, he inverted the 
metaphor: "T he difference between an economy that sorts the information 
and energy in photons and onethat sorts the information and energy in dol- 
lars is a slight one in my mind. Economy is ecology" 
Increasingly the global marketplace is conceived of in Darwinian terms, 
with the social and environmental depredations of multinationals rational- 
ized as corporate life forms' struggle for survival in an economic ecosystem. 
"'Ecology' and 'economy' share more than linguistic roots," maintains the 
nanotechnologistK . Eric Drexler; corporations, he argues, are "evolved arti- 
ficial systems" born of the marketplace's "Darwinian" competition (K. E. 
Drexler, Engines of Creation, NY: Anchor, 1986, 32, 182). In Bionomics, business 
consultant M ichael Rothschild straightfacedly argues that "what we call cap- 
italism (or free-market economics) is not an ism at all but a naturally occur- 
ring phenomenon" (and therefore presumably beyond reproach). The cata- 
log copy for Perseus Books presents C lockspeed as C harles H . Fine's sociobio- 
logical parables about "industrial fruit-flies" for anxious managers, whom he 
promises to turn into "'corporate geneticists' who do not react to the forces 
of change but master them to engineer their company's destiny" 
A 1996 issue of the digital business magazine Fast Company featured an unin- 
tentionally hilarious example of corporate biobabble. A profile of Eric 
Schmidt, Sun's chief technology officer, extols his expertise at corporate 
crossbreeding- "organizational genetics," to those in the know, which means 
"combining organizational DNA in unique and inventive ways." What's 
organizational DNA, you ask? Why "it's the stuff, mostly intangible, that 
determines the basic character of a business. It'sbred from the founders, sat- 
urates the early employees, and often shapes behavior long after the pioneers 
have moved on" (J. F. M oore, "H ow Companies H ave Sex," Fast Company, 
Oct.-Nov 1996, 66). Gene-splicing the latest in Darwinian metaphors to a 
sexual politics that is strictly from Bedrock, the article's author analogizes 
venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to "the male urge to sow seed widely 
and without responsibilities and the female desire for a mate who'll settle 
down and help with the kids" (ibid., 68). 

We've heard this song before, of course, and when the hundredth trendhop- 
ping management consultant informs us, asjames M artin does in Cybercorp, 

Economy is ecology. OK, so now 
what? You are, I think, an ecologist 
of sorts, so you'll surely recognize 
how important it is to adapt, to 
develop, to absorb, to encompass, 
to mutate and to grow— so how 
should we elaborate on the idea that 
economy is, in a way, ecology? I'd 
suggest that we start to digest the 
two terms of this statement, to break 
them apart. Mind you, I disagree with 
you about this: I think that an econo- 
my can be seen as an "ecology," but 
I don't believe that ecologies should 
be seen as economies— and that 
lack of transitivity suggests, to me at 
least, that there is much more to be 
learned in questioning what you've 
said than in accepting it. 
"Very well. Can you give mean exam- 
ple of a planned economy that seems 
to be healthy. .and appears likely to 
remain so for the long term?" 
Absolutely: The Roman Empire. The 
British Empire. The Ming Dynasty. 
Feudalism. Byzantium. Venice. The 
Netherlands. De Beers. The EEC. I 
don't toss these out to be glib; 
rather, I mention them to point up 
just how many people have con- 
structed very impressive regimes: 
every one of them seemed (or 
seems) quite sensible— that is, 
according to its own terms. I don't 
see the Netherlands collapsing any- 
time soon; but for some pretty long 
stretches no one saw how Rome 
would fall apart or why Byzantium 
would collapse, and they surely did. I 
have little doubt that the nation-state 
will fall apart and be replaced by 
some other, similarly heterogeneous 
"solution," and that that "solution" 
will in turn collapse in the face of 
something else, and so one and so 
forth. Is this state of flux what you 
are advocating? Or, do you believe 
that we're on the verge of a terminal 
solution to the non-problem of his- 
torical change? |T. Byfield <tby¥:>. Re: The Piran 
Nettime Manifesto, Tue, 3 J un 1997 
02:12:13 -0400] 

Here's some basic banalities: 
Anarchism is neo-liberalism for hip- 
pies. Economy is social. Everyone 
should work so everyone can play. 
Giving gifts is better than exploiting 
others. [Richard Bartrook <richard5i>, More Pro- 
vocations, Wed, 4 J un 1997 00:14:08 


Cosic: When Negroponte came to 
Ljubljana, I had a big fight with him, 
and we interrupted his speech. Lul<a 
Freiih and I went around the city 
spraying grafitti: "WIRED = PRAV- 
DA". I made it iook iike a secret 
internet terrorist organization. On 
the website we compare him to Tito. 
But we did it without fanaticism. 
[Tilman Baumgartel <Tiiman_Baum^>. 
Interview w/ Vuk Cosic, Men, 30 J un 
1997 08:45:46 -0400] 

that high-tech corporations are "creature[s] designed to prosper in the cor- 
porate jungle," and that "capitalist society is based on competition and sur- 
vival of the fittest, asin Darwin'sworld," we realize where we've heard it. It's 
the theme song of H erbert Spencer's social Darwinism, as popular in its day 
with monopoly-builders like John D, Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie as 
Kevin Kelly's neobiological capitalism is with Tom Peters and his corporate 
flock, "'Social Darwinism,'" Stephen Jay Gould usefully reminds us, "has 
often been used as a general term for any evolutionary argument about the 
biological basis of human differences, but the initial 19th-century meaning 
referred to a specific theory of class stratification within industrial societies, 
and particularly to the idea that there was a permanently poor underclass 
consisting of genetically inferior people who had precipitated down into 
their inevitable fate" ("Curveball," in S. Fraser, ed., T heBell CurveWar, NY: 
Basic, 1995, 12). 

The genealogical links between the public musings of the self-anointed "dig- 
ital elite" and the Spencerian rhetoric of the robber barons is apparent at a 
glance, though they're separated by a century or so. N icholas N egroponte, a 
sharp-dressed pitchman who hawks visions of a brighter, broader-bandwidth 
tomorrow to Fortune 500 executives (and to the unwashed AO L millions in 
his book Being D igital), breezily redefines the "needy" and the "have-nots" as 
thetechnologically illiterate— the "digitally homeless," a phrase that wins the 
Newt Gingrich Let Them Eat Laptops Award for cloud-dwelling detach- 
ment from the lives of the little people (N. Negroponte, 
"Homeless@info.hwy net," New Yorl< Times, Feb. 11, 1995, 19). Stewart 
Brand, a charter member of the digerati, blithely informs the Los Angels 
Times that "elites basically drive civilization" (P. Keegan, "The Digerati," 
New Yorl< T imes M agazine, M ay 21, 1995, 42). W ired founder Louis Rossetto 
rails against the critic Gary Chapman as someone who "attacks technologi- 
cally advanced people," as if website design were an inherited trait, a mark- 
er of evolutionary superiority" (P Keegan, "Reality Distortion Field" 
< > February 1, 1997). 
If the analogy to social Darwinism seems overheated, consider Rossetto's 
belief, earnestly confided to a New Yorl< Times writer, that Homo Cyber is 
plugging himself into "exo-nervous systems, things that connect us up 
beyond- literally physically- beyond our bodies, and we will discover that 
when enough of us get together this way we will have created a new life 
form. It's evolutionary; it's what the human mind was destined to do" 
(Keegan, "Digerati," 88). As Rossetto readily acknowledges, his techno- 
Darwinian epiphany (like Barlow's) is borrowed from Pierre Teilhard de 
Chardin, thejesuit philosopher and Lamarckian evolutionist who predicted 
the coming of an "ultra-humanity" destined to converge in a transcendental 
"Omega Point" that would be "the consummation of the evolutionary 
process" (M . Dery Escape Velocity, NY: Grove, 1996, 45-48). 
De Chardin's ideas are well known in theological and New Age circles and, 
increasingly among the digerati. Less known is his passionate advocacy of 
eugenics as a means of preparing the way for ultrahumanity. "W hat funda- 
mental attitude.. .should the advancing wing of humanity take to fixed or 
definitely unprogressive ethnical groups?" he wrote, in H uman Energy. "The 


earth is a closed and limited surface. To what extent should it tolerate, racial- 
ly or nationally, areas of lesser activity? M ore generally still, how should we 
judge the efforts we lavish in all kinds of hospitals on saving what is so often 
no more than one of life's rejects?.. .[S]hould not the strong (to the extent 
that we can define this quality) take precedence over the preservation of the 
weak?" (P. Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, NY: Harcourt Brace 
Jovanovich, 1969, 132-33). H appily the answer is readily at hand: "In the 
course of the coming centuries it is indispensable that a nobly human form 
of eugenics, on a standard worthy of our personalities, should be discovered 
and developed," he writes, in T he Phenomenon of M an (Teilhard de Chardin, 
T he Phenomenon of M an, NY: H arper, 1959, 282). 
Since there's an implied guilt by association here, it's important to note that 
Rossetto and the other digital de Chardinians may well be unfamiliar with 
the philosopher's thoughts on eugenics But given our increasingly "geno- 
centric" mindset and the creepy popularity of books like T he Bell Curve, as 
well as the potential misuses of vanguard technologies like gene therapy and 
genetic screening, the digerati would do well to consider the ugly underside 
of their techno-Darwinian vision of the ultra-human apotheosis of the 
"technologically advanced"— "the advancing wing of humanity" by any 
other name 0 bviously the W ired ideology is far less pervasive, and not quite 
as nasty and brutish, as social Darwinism in its heyday; none of the digerati 
have embraced eugenics, at least publicly But 19th-century capitalists like 
Carnegie and Rockefeller, who in the words of Andrew Ross "seized for 
themselves the mantle of the fittest survivors as if it were indeed biological- 
ly ordained," would undoubtedly note a family resemblance in the 
digerati- Way C ool white guys secure in the knowledge that they are Brand's 
fabled "elite," guiding civilization from their rightful place atop the Great 
Chain of Being (Digital). 


DATE: SUN, 20 SEP 1998 20:10:16 -0400 

One hundred years ago. Western societies underwent a second Industrial 
Revolution, based on the interaction of several technologies: electricity the 
internal combustion engine, oil, steel, and plastics Although knowledge and 
information as inputs to production processes had already played a role in 
the first I ndustrial Revolution, it was the coming of electricity and the cre- 
ation of thefirst industrial research laboratories (such astheGeneral Electric 
laboratory) that propelled knowledge to its position as the most important 
input to production. Information, of course, also plays key roles in other eco- 
nomic areas such as marketing and investment, and indeed, to the extent 
that a particular economy is truly driven by supply and demand, the infor- 
mation transmitted by prices has always played a central role. Without 
regard to the fact that knowledge has always been a key factor in the work- 


ing of economies, electricity and tlie otiier innovations of tlie early twenty 
century greatly intensified its importance. T he explosive growth of comput- 
er networks in the last three decades is bound to intensify the flow of knowl- 
edge and this intensification will undoubtedly transform the nature of the 
economy in the next century 

It follows that a very important task for today's intellectuals is to create real- 
istic scenarios of the world of twenty-first century economics The problem 
is that, when we try to imagine what the effects of the intensification of 
knowledge will be like, several obstacles stand in the way T he most impor- 
tant of these barriersisthatintellectualson the right, center and left sides of 
the political spectrum are all trying to predict what a twenty-first century 
economy will be like on the basis of theories that were devised to explain the 
workings of nineteenth century England. In other words, whether one is 
using the conceptual machinery of Adam Smith or of K arl M arx (or of any 
combination of the two), whether one sees in the recent commercialization 
of the internet a new "invisible hand" that will magically benefit society, or 
whether oneseesin thiscommercialization the "commodification" of the net 
which will magically ruin society one is still trying to understand what is a 
radically new phenomenon in terms of obsolete categories belonging to 
bankrupt systems of thought. It is time to go beyond both the "invisible ban- 
ders" and the "commodifiers" and to attempt to construct a new economic 
theory that not only give us a clearer picture of the future, but almost as 
important, of the past, since it is impossible to know where we are going 
unless we know how we got where we are. 

W hat follows is a brief sketch of what these new economic theories might be 
like. First of all, it is not as if we would need to manufacture a new theory 
out of thin air. Alternatives to the "invisible handers" and the "commodi- 
fiers" have existed in the past (such as the institutionalist school of the fol- 
lowers of T horstein Veblen) and new theories are flourishing today such as 
the neo-institutionalist school and the growing field of nonlinear economics 
(D. C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, NY: 
Cambridge U niversity 1990). In addition, economic historians like Fernand 
Braudel and his followers have given us an incredibly detailed account of the 
development of Western economies in the last eight hundred years— an 
account accompanied by research that has generated a wealth of empirical 
data which simply was not available to either Adam Smith or Karl M arx 
when they created their theories Furthermore, this new data contradicts 
many of the foundations of those two systems of thought. Finally not just 
economists and economic historians will be involved in developing the new 
ideas we need, philosophers will also participate: in the last twenty years the 
discipline of the philosophy of economics (that is the philosophy of science 
applied to economics) has grown at a tremendous pace and is today a very 
active field of research (U. Maki, "Economics with Institutions," and C. 
Knudsen, "Modelling Rationality Institutions and Processes in Economic 
T heory" in M aki, B. Gustafsson, and C . K nudsen, eds. Rationality, I nstitutions 
and Economic M ethodology, London: Routledge, 1993). 
H ere I only have space to discuss a few of the ideas that have been developed 
by economists, historians and philosophers Perhaps the most dramatic new 


insight emerges from Fernand Braudel's history of capitalism. U nlil<e theo- 
rists from the left and the right who believe capitalism developed through 
several stages, first being competitive and subservient to market forces and 
only later, in the twentieth century becoming monopolistic, Braudel has 
shown with a wealth of historical evidence that as far bacl< as the thirteenth 
century and in all the centuries in between, capitalists have always engaged 
in anticompetitive practices, manipulating demand and supply in a variety of 
ways Whenever large fortunes were made in the areas of foreign trade, 
wholesaling, finance, or large-scale industry and agriculture, market forces 
were not acting on their own, and in some cases not acting at all. In short, 
what Braudel shows is that we must carefully differentiate between the 
dynamics generated by many interacting small producers and traders (where 
automatic coordination via prices does occur), from the dynamics of a few 
big businesses (or oligopolies, to use the technical term), in which prices are 
increasingly replaced by commands as coordinating mechanisms, and spon- 
taneous allocation by the market replaced with rigid planning by a manage- 
rial hierarchy What these new historical findings suggest is that all that has 
existed in the West since the fourteenth century and even after the I ndustrial 
Revolution, isa heterogeneous collection of institutions— some governed by 
market dynamics and others manipulating those dynamics— not a homoge- 
neous, societywide "capitalist system." In the words of Fernand Braudel: 
"We should not be too quick to assume that capitalism embraces the whole 
of western society that it accounts for every stitch in the social fabric. .that 
our societies are organized from top to bottom in a 'capitalist system'. 0 n the 
contrary ...there isa dialectic still very much alive between capitalism on one 
hand, and its antithesis, the 'non-capitalism' of the lower level on the other" 
(Fernand Braudel, T he Perspective of the World, NY: Harper and Row, 1986, 
630). H e adds that, indeed, capitalism was carried upward and onward on 
the shoulders of small shops and "the enormous creative powers of the mar- 
ket, of the lower story of exchange. .[T his] lowest level, not being paralyzed 
by the size of its plant or organization, is the one readiest to adapt; it is the 
seed bed of inspiration, improvisation and even innovation, although its 
most brilliant discoveries sooner or later fall into the hands of the holders of 
capital. It was not the capitalists who brought about the first cotton revolu- 
tion; all the new ideas came from enterprising small businesses" (ibid., 631). 
Several things follow from Braudel's distinction between market and capital- 
ist institutions (or as he calls them "antimarkets"). If markets and antimar- 
kets have never been the same thing then both the invisible banders as well 
as the commodifiers are wrong, the former because spontaneous coordina- 
tion by an invisible hand does not apply to big business, and the latter 
because commodity fetishism does not apply to the products created by small 
business but only to large hierarchical organizations capable of manipulat- 
ing demand to create artificial needs I n other words, for people on the right 
and center of the political spectrum all monetary transactions, even if they 
involve large oligopolies or even monopolies, are considered market transac- 
tions For the M arxist left, on the other hand, the very presence of mon^, 
regardless of whether it involves economic power or not, means that a social 
transaction has now been commodified and hence made part of capitalism. 

The other mental characteristic of 
the virtual class is that it is deeply 
authoritarian. It believes thatvirtual- 
ity equals the coming-to-be of a fully 
free human society. As CEOs of 
leading corporations use to say, 
"adapt or you're toast"— uttering 
this with the total smugness of com- 
placency itself. The other side of 
cyber-authoritarianism is the ab- 
solute outrage that grips those in 
authority when faced by the pres- 
ence of opposition. Qualms about 
the emergence of the virtual class, 
or about the social consequences of 
technology are met with either indif- 
ference or total outrage. Quite on 
the contrary, members of the virtual 
class see themselves as the mis- 
sionaries of the human race itself, 
the avant garde, in their terms, in 
honor-full collaboration with the 
telematic machines. The program of 
the virtual class is a curse for those 
who stand outside of it. Within, it is 
not even a hostile position— it is 
simply contempt for those members 
of the working class that do not 
have easy access and who cannot 
experience the new universal com- 
munion. At the same time you see 
the virtual class shutting down the 
internet and again, feeling nothing 
but contempt for the lost ideas of 
what they would like to call blue- 
eyed Utopian thinkers who call for 
the possibilities of democratic use of 
the internet outside of the barriers of 
the state. But when they get chal- 
lenged, they go for their class inter- 
ests and actually suppress those 
members of competing classes who 
stand in opposition to them. The vir- 
tual class has this aspect of seduc- 
tion, on the one hand, and, on the 
other, a policy of consolidation. This 
is the present reality in which we 
live. It is a grim, severe, and deeply 
fascistic class because it operates 
by means of the disciplinary state, 
imposing real austerity programs in 
order to fund research efforts that 
benefit itself. At the same time it 
politically controls the working class 
by severe taxation in order to make 
sure that people cannot be econom- 
ically motiile and cannot accumulate 
capital in their own right. When it 
comes to Third World nations it acts 
in classic fascist ways. It imposes 
strict anti-emigration policies in the 
name of humane gestures. It shields 
its own local populace from the 
influx of immigrants by creating a 
"bunker state," by stressing a Will to 
Purity. In this way it can tolerate 
"ethnic cleansing" by way of infinite 
media coverage. For example, the 
Western reaction to the genocide in 
Bosnia is symptomatic of this condi- 
tion. [Geert Lovink <geert@xs?!:>, Theory of the Virtual Class, 
Thu, 4 J an 1996 23:11:59 -fOlOO 

It is my belief that Braudei's empirical data forces on us to make a distinc- 
tion which is not made by the left or the right: that between market and anti- 
market institutions. In fact, we can already seethe kind of dogmatic respons- 
es that the lack of this distinction promotes on discussions in the internet. As 
it became clear that digital cash and secure cryptographic technology for 
credit card transactions were going to transform the net into a place to do 
business, some intellectuals became euphoric about the utopic potential of 
digital "free enterprise," while others began to denounce the internet as the 
latest expression of international capitalism, or to claim that the net was 
becoming commodified and hence re-absorbed into the system. It is clear, 
however, that if we reject these two dogmatic positions, our evaluation of the 
economic impact of the net (its potential for both decentralization and 
empowerment of the individual producer and for centralization of content 
production by a few large firms) will have to become more finely nuanced 
and based on more complex models of economic reality. 
Recognizing the complexity and heterogeneity of actual "institutional 
ecologies" may be crucial not only when thinking about internet economics 
but, more generally when analyzing the oppressive aspects of today's eco- 
nomic system. T hat is, those aspects that we would want to change to make 
economic institutions more fair and less exploitative. We need to think of 
economic institutions as part of a larger institutional ecology an ecology that 
must include, for example, military institutions. 0 nly this way will we be able 
to locate the specific sources of certain forms of economic power, sources 
which would remain invisible if we simply thought of every aspect of our 
current situation as coming from free enterprise or from exploitative capital- 
ism. In particular, many of the most oppressive aspects of industrial disci- 
pline and of the use of machines to control human workers in assembly line 
factories, were not originated by capitalists but by military engineers in eigh- 
teenth century French and nineteenth century American arsenals and 
armories Without exaggeration, these and other military institutions creat- 
ed many of the techniques used to withdraw control of the production 
process from workers; they then exported these techniques to civilian enter- 
prises, typically antimarket organizations (M . R. Smith, "Army Ordnance 
and the American System of Manufacturing,' 1815-61," and C. F. 
O'Connell, Jr., "The Corps of Engineers and the Rise of Modern 
M anagement, 1827-56," in Smith, ed., M ilitary E nterprise, Cambridge: M IT, 
1987). Hence, not to include in our economic models processes occurring 
within this wider institutional ecology renders invisible the source of the very 
structures we must change to create a better society. It also diminishes our 
chances of ever dismantling those same oppressive structures. 



DATE: SUN, 15 MAR 1998 10:54:31 +0100 

For the information sector and its information products, many open mar- 
l<ets are turning into artificial monopolies and wliat M anuel DeLanda calls 
antimarkets. A major mechanism that facilitates this process is the concept of 
intellectual property rights (IPRs), which may be seen asaform of exclusive 
ownership over information products. This monopolistic ownership 
through IPRs facilitates the accumulation of wealth by an information elite 
and leads to the specific social stratification analyzed here. Once resolved, 
the social conflicts that emerge out of the stratification can lead to a new 
type of economy 

I n the future, nonmonopolistic information economies may emerge that will 
remunerate intellectual activity through means other than monopolistic 
mechanisms such as patents, copyrights, and other IPRs (for example, salaries 
and wagesy bonuses, awards, grants, and other forms that do not involve 
exclusive right of use). In such economies, the nature of intellectual rewards 
will be in much better harmony with the nature of information itself. 


The main forms of IPRs are patents and copyrights, both of which are statu- 
tory monopolies; that is, they are monopolies acquired by virtue of govern- 
ment statutes T hese state-granted monopolies cover the exclusive rights to 
use, manufacture, copy modify and sell an information product. Recently 
under the G ATT/ WTO, these rights have been expanded further to include 
the exclusive right to rent out copyrighted material and to import patented 

These statutory monopolies— which are gradually being strengthened and 
extended as the political and economic power of the propertied classes of 
the information sector grow— are in direct conflict with the information free- 
doms sought by the vast majority of information users. These freedoms 
include the freedom to use information, to share it with others, and to mod- 
ify it. Information monopolies are also in conflict with the basic nature of 
information itself as a public good. 

There are in total some 44,000 TNCs 
in the world, with 280,000 sub- 
sidiaries and an annuai turnover of 
US$7,000 biiiion.Two thirds of worid 
trade results from TNC production 
networks. The share of worid GDP 
controiled by TNCs has grown from 
17 percent in the mid-sixties to 24 
percent in 1984 and almost 33 per- 
cent in 1995. In a parallel and relat- 
ed process, the largest TNCs are 
steadily increasing their global mar- 
ket shares. According to UNCTAD's 
1997 World Investment Report, the 
ten largest TNCs now have an annu- 
al turnover of more than US$1,000 
billion. Fifty-one of the world's 
largest economies are in fact TNCs. 
Continuous mergers and takeovers 
have created a situation in which 
almost every sector of the global 
economy is controlled by a handful 
of TNCs, the most recent being the 
service and pharmaceutical sectors. 
In J anuary 1998, for example, the 
largest business merger in history 
took place in a US$70 billion deal in 
which Glaxo Wellcome and Smith- 
Kline Beecham became the largest 
pharmaceutical company on earth. 
[Corporate Europe Observatory 
Tue, 10 Feb 1998 16:01:35 4O100 


Just like the ecology and industrial sectors, the information sector gives rise 
to various economic classes based on individuals' position in the production, 
distribution, and use of information. Analysis of these classes can provide 
useful insights about the underlying economic interests and typical attitudes 
of various social groups in the sector. The following major classes can be 


Cyberlords: The propertied class of the information sector, they control either a 
body of information or the material infrastructure for creating, distributing, or 
using information. Cyberlordsare rent-seeking membersof the capitalist class. 
I PR holders make up the first category of cyberlords; they have staked their 
monopoly rights to a specific body of information, and earn their income 
by charging royalties, license fees, or other forms of rent from those who 
want to use this body of information. Because of these monopoly rights, 
they can set prices that are much higher than their marginal cost of pro- 
duction, helping them accumulate and concentrate wealth rapidly 
Cyberlordsincludetheownersof software companies, database companies, 
audio, video, and film companies, genetic engineering firms, pharmaceuti- 
cal and seed firms, and similar companies that earn most of their income 
from I PR rents 

The infrastructure owners are the second category of cyberlords. They 
own or control the industrial infrastructure for creating, reproducing, dis- 
tributing, or using information. They earn their income by charging rents 
for the use of these infrastructures T his category includes the owners of 
communication lines and equipment, radio and TV stations, internet serv- 
ice providers, theater distributors and owners, cable TV operators, and 
similar firms. 

These industrial cyberlords are generally in alliance with the first group. 
H owever, they may not share the same rabid advocacy for I PR s that char- 
acterize the I PR-holding cyberlords, especially when IPRs impede wider 
use of the infrastructure from which infrastructure owners derive their own 
income. The distinction between them may occasionally become impor- 
tant in the struggle against the cyberlords of the first type, who are the true 
cyberlords of the information economy. 

T he cyberlord class also includes those highly paid professionals who earn 
their living under the employ or in the service of cyberlords T he best exam- 
ples are the top-level managers as well as the lawyers who serve cyberlords 
and who derive their income mostly from the cyberlordsthey work for. T hese 
highly paid hirelings assume the class status and ideological outlook of the 
cyberlords they serve. 

Cyberlords all over the world are scouring the public domain for informa- 
tion products that they can privatize and monopolize through IPRs. Some 
have already acquired the exclusive electronic reproduction rights to paint- 
ings and other cultural artifacts in the world's best museums Others are 
engaged in a race to patent genetic information of all kinds, including 
parts of the human genome. Still others are eyeing governments' vast 
information outputs, which are normally in the public domain. 
Most big cyberlords control corporations that operate globally These 
firms are a major hidden force that drive the process of globalization. 
Because the social nature of information keeps asserting itself and infor- 
mation products tend to spread themselves globally as soon as they are 
released, cyberlords need a global legal infrastructure to impose their 
information monopolies and extract monopoly rents T hus, they push the 
globalization process incessantly to ensure that every country, every nook 
and corner of the globe, is within their legal reach. 


The highly advanced industrial infrastructures of the U.S. and Europe, 
together with extremist concepts of private property, have given their cyber- 
lords a commanding lead over cyberlords elsewhere. (An extreme example is 
the claim that discovery of a particular D N A sequence entails ownership of 
that sequence through a patent.) Because they tend to suppress local efforts 
to acquire new technologies at the least cost, big cyberlords are a major hin- 
drance to the development efforts of most national economie& 

Compradors: T hese are the merchant capitalists of the information sector, and 
earn their living by selling patented or copyrighted products for profit. Th^^ 
very often come from the merchant classes of the industrial and ecology sec- 
tors, and may retain their businesses in these sectors T hese merchant classes 
are attracted to the information sector because the extremely high profit mar- 
gins enjoyed by successful cyberlords also give resellers better margins 
T his class can be roughly divided into two— monopolistic and nonmonopo- 
listic compradors M onopolistic compradors mal<e money by paying cyber- 
lords for the right to sell patented or copyrighted goods Thus, they derive 
their income from information rents, therefore supporting cyberlord interests 
Nonmonopolistic compradors mal<e money by reproducing and selling 
patented or copyrighted material, without paying the monopoly rents 
claimed by cyberlords I n a way they help break the information monopolies 
imposed by cyberlords 

Because of the political clout of cyberlords, the nonmonopolistic com- 
pradors are often harassed and suppressed both to discourage them from 
their trade and to turn them into monopolistic compradors They are fre- 
quently the targets of surveillance, legal suits, raids, and other forms of gov- 
ernment and cyberlord harassment. Yet, there is no lack of nonmonopolistic 
compradors who trade in copyrighted and patented materials, making these 
materials more accessible to the public, which would otherwise be unable to 
afford them. Even under the worst forms of authoritarian rule, nonmonop- 
olistic compradors continue to ply their trade by forming an underground 
network to break the cyberlord monopolies T hese compradors can be allies 
of information users against the cyberlord class. M any of them, however, 
eventually surrender to the power of cyberlords, arrive at a profit-sharing 
arrangement with them, and turn into monopolistic compradors 

Inteilectuals: They are the main creators of information in the information 
sector. They earn their living through mental labor, creating new and useful 
information. This class ranges widely from those whose earnings come 
mostly from business contracts for information work, to wage-earning intel- 
lectuals who earn most of their income from fixed-rate payments such as 
wages and salaries and whose work— some of which may be patentable or 
copyrightable— is by contract the property of the company they work for. 
M ost intellectuals belong to this wage-earning stratum. 

Information users: M embers of this group use information but are not general- 
ly involved in creating information products for sale. Whatever information 
they generate is either automatically shared with others or kept confidential. 


The idea of claiming a monopoly over a body of information to mal<e 
money out of it is quite alien to them. Because they generally earn their 
income elsewhere, information users are actually neither a single class nor 
a monolithic group, but a cluster of classes in the ecology, industrial, and 
information sectors. Since they are all information users, however, they 
actively seek the freedom to use, share, and modify information. 
Information users are the main force in the struggle to free information 
from cyberlord monopolies 


T hese classes in a monopolistic information economy differ in their attitude 
toward I PR s, reflecting their class roles in the production, distribution, and 

use of information. 

Cyberlords strongly advocate expanding these monopoly mechanisms, 
while information users want to limit I PR s as much as possible W henever 
I PR infringements encroach upon their profit margins, compradors take the 
side of cyberlords. But when monopoly rents themselves encroach upon 
their profit margins, other compradors oppose IPRs. Intellectuals may 
dream of owning some body of information in the future, from which th^^ 
can themselves extract information rents. But largely th^^ realize that this 
cannot be their main source of income, and that they themselves need 
access to bodies of information that are today monopolized through patents 
or copyrights 

To transform a monopolistic information economy into a nonmonopolistic 
information economy monopolistic IPRs must be replaced with other 
means of rewarding intellectual activity This will of course be opposed to 
the very end by the cyberlord class, which furthermore is politically and 
economically very strong As the privatization process subsumes more and 
more of what is now public domain information under cyberlord monopo- 
lies, the information-using public will develop a higher level of political con- 
sciousness, and this struggle will eventually express itself as the main con- 
flict in a monopolistic information economy As such, it will increasingly 
manifest itself on cultural and economic as well as on political fronts. 


To defeat the powerful cyberlord class, we must advance a set of demands- 
one that will isolate the big cyberlordsand their closest comprador allies, that 
will neutralize or win over the middle and small cyberlords, and that will 
convince the entire intellectual class to unite with the vast majority of infor- 
mation users We must also involve other classes and social groups in the 
industrial and ecology sectors who support our demands Without such a 
united front, it will be extremely difficult to defeat the information monopo- 
lies of the big cyberlords, and the latter will be able to use their increasing 
economic and political power to consolidate, codify, and further expand their 
statutory monopolies 

The long-term goal is to dismantle monopolistic forms of information own- 
ership and replace them with nonmonopolistic forms This will eventually 
enable users to enjoy the full information freedom that will unleash creativi- 


ty not only among intellectuals, but among information users themselves 
Several demands can be identified now, because they have emerged histori- 
cally and must necessarily become part of the overall set of demands made 
on information monopolies 

Compulsory licensing: The most important demand for breaking the cyber- 
lords' information monopolies is to retain compulsory licensing and 
expand its coverage. 

Compulsory licensing worl<s as follows: Someone who wants to use/ com- 
mercialize patented or copyrighted material approaches NOT the patent or 
copyright holder to obtain a license to do so, but the government. T he gov- 
ernment grants the license, whether the original patent or copyright holder 
agrees or not, but compels the licensee to pay the patent/ copyright holder a 
royalty rate that is fixed by law. M any countries in the world have used com- 
pulsory licensing for important products like pharmaceuticals and books 
(For example, Philippine law authorizes local publishers to reprint foreign 
textbooks for the use of the local educational system; it also provides for 
compulsory licensing of pharmaceutical products by local companies Both 
laws are currently under heavy attack by cyberlord lobbyists Efforts are now 
afoot to repeal them in order to align Philippine laws with the 
G ATT /WTO agreement.) 

Compulsory licensing (also called mandatory licensing) is good for countries 
that want to access technologies but cannot afford the price set by 
patent/ copyright holders While this internationally recognized mechanism 
was meant to benefit poorer countries even the U nited States and many 
E uropean countries use it. 

T his demand will split the cyberlord class Small cyberlords who have nei- 
ther the capital nor the production facilities to commercialize their own cre- 
ations welcome compulsory licensing— although they will try to negotiate for 
higher royalty rates— because it will ensure them regular rent income. Big 
cyberlords who have the capability to commercialize products themselves are 
violently opposed to the idea of compulsory licensing, because it is a power- 
ful threat to their monopoly over information. 

No patenting of life forms: This demand emerged from the popular cam- 
paigns against genetic engineering and recombinant DMA technologies It 
has become a major global issue, as genetic engineering continues to slide 
down that slippery slope leading corporations toward the direct manipula- 
tion and commercialization of human genetic material. True to their cyber- 
lord nature, owners of biotech firms are racing against each other in patent- 
ing DNA sequences microorganisms plants animals human genetic matter, 
and all other kinds of biological material. Cyberlord representatives have 
already managed to insert protection in the G ATT/ WTO agreement for 
patents on microorganisms and microbiological processes 
Life-form patents raise religious and moral issues as well as impinge on 
indigenous community knowledge. Genetic engineering also threatens to 
give rise to a whole new class of harmful viruses germs microorganisms 
and higher lifeformsthat haveno natural enemies T hisdemand to ban such 
patents can unite a wide range of sectors against the cyberlord ideology 
Expanding the fair-use policy: T his struggle has historically been waged by 


librarians (particularly in public libraries) who see themselves as guardiansof 
the world's storehouse of knowledge. M ost librarians want this storehouse of 
knowledge to be freely accessible to the public, and they have fought long 
battles and firmly held their ground on the issue of "fair use," which allows 
students and researchers access to copyrighted or patented materials without 
paying I PR rents. Recently this ground has been suffering slow erosion from 
the increasing political power of cyberlords 

Support for nonmonopolistic mechanisms: Various concepts in software 
development and/ or distribution have recently emerged. Some, such as 
shareware, are less monopolistic than I PR. Others, such as the GNU 
General Public License (GPL), are completely nonmonopolistic. 
Shareware works under various schemes, such as free trial periods for use of 
software, free distribution, voluntary payments, and so on. These concepts 
have in effect abandoned the legal artifice of asserting exclusive monopoly 
over copying work in favor of granting users limited rights to use, copy and 
distribute the material. Shareware authors, however, still balk at releasing 
their source code, and therefore continue to keep their users captive and 
unable to modify the software on their own. 

The GNU GPL enables users to enjoy the fullest set of information free- 
doms, including the freedom to use information, to share it with others, and 
to modify it. The GPL— a project of the Free Software Foundation to elab- 
orate existing copyright concepts toward nonmonopolistic forms- shows 
how current copyright concepts may be used in moving away from monop- 
olistic arrangements, and points the way toward future nonmonopolistic soft- 
ware development. Software as well as books that fall under the GPL copy- 
right may be freely used by anyone who may find them useful. They may also 
be freely copied and shared with others Finally the software may be freely 
modified because the package includes the source code, that is, the legible 
text files of formalized instructions that are "compiled" in order to make a 
computer program. 

General wage increases; In a way salaries and wages are a specific form of non- 
monopolistic remuneration for intellectual activity. T his is the most relevant 
demand for most intellectuals, who will stay on the side of information users 
as long asth^ are assured some reasonable remuneration for their work as 
information creators In this respect, the vast majority of intellectuals can 
unite with other wage-earning classes to raise common demands 
The list above is not complete. A comprehensive set of demands will emerge 
when the various classes ranged against the cyberlords acquire an economic 
and political consciousness that will make clear where their interests lie. 


These demands in the information sector must also be linked with the 
demands of other change-oriented classes and groups in the ecology and 
industrial sectors, such as farmers fisherfolk, workers women, and indigenous 
peoples T he key is to bring together the widest range of people whose unity 
and joint action can develop a political structure for evolving new forms of 
rewarding intellectual activity. In the future, such forms will lead to a nonmo- 
nopolistic information sector T he rethinking of property concepts that this will 


bring about will then reinforce demands for restructuring the industrial and 

agriculture sectors as well. 

From such a confluence of social movements, enough social forces for 
change can emerge to bring forth a society in which l<nowledge and culture 
are freely shared, where industrial machinery is carefully designed for gen- 
uine human and community needs, and where agriculture is an ecological 
and not an industrial undertalcing 


DATE; TUE, 27 OCT 1998 11:58:12 -0600 

We need to retheorize electronic space and uncouple it analytically from the 
properties of the internet which have shaped our thinl<ing about electronic 
space. We tend to thinl< of this space as one that is characterized by distrib- 
uted power, by the absence of hierarchy The internet is probably the best 
known and most noted. Its particular attributes have engendered the notion 
of distributed power: decentralization, openness, possibility of expansion, no 
hierarchy no center, no conditions for authoritarian or monopoly control. 
Yet the networl<s are also mal<ing possible other forms of power T he finan- 
cial marl<ets operating largely through private electronic networl<s are a 
good instance of an alternative form of power The three properties of elec- 
tronic networl<s: speed, simultaneity, and interconnectivity have produced 
stril<ingly different outcomes in this case from those of the internet. T hese 
properties have made possible orders of magnitude and concentration far 
surpassing anything we had ever seen in financial markets The consequence 
has been that the global capital market now has the power to discipline 
national governments, as became evident with the M exico "crisis" of 
December 1994. We are seeing the formation of new power structures in 
electronic space, perhaps most clearly in the private networks of finance but 
also in other cases 


T he vast new economic topography that is being implemented through elec- 
tronic space is but one moment, one fragment, of an even vaster economic 
chain that is largely embedded in nonelectronic spaces T here is no fully vir- 
tualizedfirm and no fully digitalized industry Even the most advanced infor- 
mation industries such as finance, are installed only partly in electronic 
space. So are industries that produce digital products such as software. T he 
growing digitalization of economic activities has not eliminated the need for 


major international business and financial centers and all the material 
resources the/ concentrate, from state-of-the-art telematic infrastructure to 
brain talent. 

Nonetheless, telematics and globalization have emerged as fundamental 
forces reshaping the organization of economic space T his reshaping ranges 
from the spatial virtualization of a growing number of economic activities to 
the reconfiguration of the geography of the built environment for econom- 
ic activity. Whether in electronic space or in the geography of the built envi- 
ronment, this reshaping involves organizational and structural changes 
Telematics maximizes the potential for geographic dispersal and globaliza- 
tion entails an economic logic that maximizes the attraction and profitabili- 
ty of such dispersal. 

Centrality remains a l<ey property of the economic system but the spatial 
correlates of centrality are profoundly altered by the new technologies and 
by globalization. T his engenders a whole new problematic around the defi- 
nition of what constitutes centrality today in an economic system where (1) 
a share of transactions occur through technologies that neutralize distance 
and place, and do so on a global scale; (2) centrality has historically been 
embodied in certain typesof built environmentsand urban forms Economic 
globalization and the new information technologies have not only reconfig- 
ured centrality and its spatial correlates, they have also created new spaces 
for centrality. 

To some extent when I look at the global economy I see a network of about 
thirty or forty strategic places— it is a changing animal that depends on all 
kinds of things— where there is an enormous concentration of all those 
resources T hey are largely cities but not exclusively Silicon Valley would be 
one, as well as other industrial areas with telecommunications industries like 
Lille, for instance The point is: yes, globalization, yes, digitalization, yes, 
dematerialization, yes, instantaneous communication, but because it is a sys- 
tem characterized not by distributed power, distributed ownership, distrib- 
uted application of profits, but by the opposite, concentration of profits, con- 
centration in ownership, concentration of control, you also have a material 
correlate to this, which is this enormous concentration of strategic resources 
in major cities 


We are seeing a spatialization of inequality that is evident both in the geog- 
raphy of the communications infrastructure and in the emergent geogra- 
phies in electronic space itself. Global cities are hyperconcentrations of 
infrastructure and the attendant resources while vast areas in less developed 
regions are poorly served. Even within global cities we see a geography of 
centrality and one of marginality For instance. New York City has the 
largest concentration of fiber-optic cable- served buildings in the world; but 
they are mostly in the center of the city, while H arlem, the black ghetto, has 
only one such building. South Central Los Angeles, the site of the 1993 
uprisings, has none. 

There are many examples of this new unequal geography of access. 
I nfrastructure requires enormous amounts of money For example, it is esti- 


mated that it will cost US$120 billion for the next ten yearsjustto bring the 
communication networks in the Central and Eastern European countries up 
to date. The European Union will spend US$25 billion per year to develop 
a broadband telecommunications infrastructure. The levels of technical 
development to be achieved by different regions and countries, and indeed, 
whole continents, depend on the public and private resources available and 
on the logic guiding the development. T his is evident even with very basic 
technologies such as telephone and fax. I n very rich countries there are 50 
telephone lines per person, in poor countries, fewer than ten. In the U.S. 
there are4.5 million fax machines and injapan, 4.3 million, but only 90,000 
in Brazil, 30,000 each in Turkey and Portugal, and 40,000 in Greece. 
Once in Cyberspace, users will also encounter an unequal geography of 
access Those who can pay for it will have high-speed service, while those 
who cannot pay will increasingly find themselves with very slow service. For 
instance, T ime Warner ran a pilot project in a medium-sized community in 
the U .S. to find out whether customers would be willing to pay rather high 
fees for fast services; th^ found that customers would— that is, those who 
could pay 


One way of beginning to conceptualize possible structural forms in elec- 
tronic space isto specify emerging forms of segmentation. T here are at least 
three distinct forms of cybersegmentation we can see today 0 ne of these is 
the commercialization of access— a familiar enough subject. The second is 
the emergence of intermediary filters to evaluate sort, and chose information 
for paying customers The third, and the one I want to focus on in some 
detail, is the formation of private firewalled corporate networks on the web. 
We cannot underestimate how pervasive is the search for ways to control, 
privatize and commercialize. T hree major global alliances have been formed 
that aim at delivering a whole range of services to clients W hile the mecha- 
nisms for commercialization may not be available now, there is an enormous 
effort to invent the appropriate billing systems It is worth remembering that 
in the U.S. the telephone system started in the late 1800s as a decentralized, 
multiple-owner network of networks: there were farmers telephone net- 
works, mutual aid societies telephone networks, and so on. This went on for 
decades But then in 1934 the Communications Act was passed defining the 
communication systems as a "natural monopoly situation" and granting 
AT&T the monopoly AT&T is up to 60 percent a billing company: it has 
invented and implemented billing systems Much effort today is likely to 
address the question of a billing system for access to and use of what is now 
public electronic space. 

Today most big infrastructure projects— laying fiber-optic cable across the 
bottom of the oceans— are carried out by three major engineering compa- 
nies who do it on "spec"— that is not because they were contracted to do so 
by a government or a company but on their own because they know that 
there is a market of actors with very deep pockets, such as the multination- 
als and the financial services firms and the financial markets, which will buy 
the bandwidth. We fight for the right of access to using bandwidth because 


we are fighting around issues concerning tlie internet— public space, a pub- 
lic good. It is like poor workers demanding public transportation to get them 
to their jobs 

Internet activists and experts don't usually recognize or often have not 
thought about the world of private digital space because they really are two 
separate worlds To me, someone who focuses also on finance, it is always 
astounding to hear generalizations made about the features of digital net- 
works in general, when what they are talking about is the features of the net. 
I think this shows us once again that technology is, ultimately embedded. 
T here is no neutral technology T he structures of power also shape some of 
the decisive features of the digital networks as I compared earlier for the 
internet and the private networks of finance. 


Electronic space has emerged not simply as a means for transmitting infor- 
mation, but as a major new theater for the accumulation and the operation 
of global capital. T his is one way of saying that electronic space is embed- 
ded within the larger dynamic of organized society particularly economic 

T here is no doubt that the internet is a space of distributed power that lim- 
its the possibilities of authoritarian and monopoly control. But it is becom- 
ing evident over the last two years that it is also a space for contestation and 
segmentation. Further, when it comes to the broader subject of the power of 
the networks, most computer networks are private T hat leaves a lot of net- 
work power that may not necessarily have the properties/ attributes of the 
internet. Indeed, much of this is concentrated power and reproduces hier- 
archy rather than distributed power systems. 

T he internet and private computer networks have coexisted for many years 
T his situation is changing, however, and that drives my concern for the need 
to retheorize the internet and the need to address the larger issue of elec- 
tronic space rather than just the part of the internet that is a public electronic 
space T he three subjects discussed above may be read as an empirical spec- 
ification of two major new conditions: (1) the growing digitalization and 
globalization of leading economic sectors has further contributed to the 
hyperconcentration of resources, infrastructure and central functions, with 
global cities as one strategic site in the new global economic order; (2) the 
growing economic importance of electronic space which has furthered glob- 
al alliances and massive concentrations of capital and corporate power, and 
has contributed to new forms of segmentation in electronic space These 
have made electronic space one of the sites for the operations of global cap- 
ital and the formation of new power structures 
W hat these developments have meant is that suddenly the two major actors 
in electronic space— the corporate sector and civil society— which until 
recently had little to do with one another in electronic space, are running 
into each other. Corporate players largely operate in private computer net- 
works But two years ago business had not yet discovered the internet in a sig- 
nificant way T he world wide web— the multimedia portion of the net with 
all its potentials for commercialization— had not yet been invented, and the 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 00 

digitalization of the entertainment industry and of business services liad not 

exploded on the scene 

0 ne of the concerns for me has been to understand the differences between 
private and public digital space A lot of theoretical work has been done on 
public digital space, for example about the Digital City in Amsterdam. I have 
been more concerned with private digital space and with what I see as a col- 
onizing of public digital space by private (that is, corporate) players We have 
three historical eras of the internet. The first phase is that of the hackers, 
where access was the issue as well as making the software available T he sec- 
ond phase is when you begin to have the interest by private players that did 
not quite know how to use it. At that point it was still primarily a public 
space, though in some ways protected. And presently the third stage which 
is the invasion of cyberspace by corporate players— it is really combat out 
there. So, for me, the internet becomes a space for contestation. I am here 
not only thinking about multinational corporations I am thinking of all 
kind of players, including thosethatmisusethe internet, something which is 
serious also. 

T his is also the context within which we need to examine the present trends 
towards deregulation and privatization that have allowed the telecommuni- 
cations industry to operate globally in an increasing number of economic 
sectors These changes have profoundly altered the role of government in 
the industry and, as a consequence, have further raised the importance of 
civil society as a site where a multiplicity of public interests can resist the 
overwhelming influence of the new corporate global players Civil society, 
from individualsto NGOs has engaged in a very energetic use of cyberspace 
from the bottom up. 

When we talk about regulation today we tend ascribe to it a narrow mean- 
ing having to do with the government regulating content. T his is a totally dif- 
ferent notion compared with the regulation of access and accountability. We 
need to free the concept of regulation from what it is We should innovate 
and begin to think about how we can regulate those big conglomerates T h&/ 
are reshaping the topography of communications They are now moving 
into Latin America, where national telecoms are being privatized. For the 
upper middle classes and above, this is an acceptable situation. T he prob- 
lem lies with lower income communitiesand moreisolated areas Even in the 
U.S. there are people who cannot even afford a telephone Global telecoms 
are dealing with a service that is essential to us— whether we look at it as 
individuals who have forms of sociability, or if we look at it as a democracy 
where communication is necessary At this moment, however, these firms are 
privatized and not accountable, a fact that suggests that we might run into 
scenarios in the future that are very nasty. 

To the extent that national communication systems are increasingly inte- 
grated into global networks, national governments will have less control. 
Further, national governments will feel great pressure to help local firms 
become incorporated into the global network, to avoid the risk of being 
excluded from the increasingly electronically operated global economic sys- 
tem. If foreign capital is necessary to develop the infrastructure in develop- 
ing countries the goals of these investors may well rule and shape the design 


of that infrastructure. This is of course reminiscent of the development of 
railroads in colonial empires, which were clearly geared towards facilitating 
imperial trade rather than the territorial integration of the colony. Such 
dependence on foreign investors is also likely to minimize concernswith pub- 
lic applications, from public access to uses in education and health. 
T here are today few institutions at the national or global level that can deal 
with these various issues It is in the private sector where this capacity lies, 
and even then only among the major players We are at risl< of being ruled 
by multinational corporations— organizations accountable only to the glob- 
al market. M ost governmental, nonprofit, and supranational organizations 
are not ready to enter the digital age. Political systems, even in the most high- 
ly developed countries, are operating in a predigital era. 
0 ne issue that characterizes the present time is that you have an interstate 
(transnational) system, yes, but that you also have an international econom- 
ic system that operates partly outside the interstate system. T he second big 
difference— and I should really say that these are very much my own ideas 
with which many economists would not agree— the second big difference 
today is that you have the formation and the development of an intermedi- 
ary world of strategic agents like financial services firms, international 
accounting experts, international legal experts, international organization 
experts, and so on. 

T his is an intermediary world that operates between nation states It means 
that in the past, when a country entered the international system it almost 
inevitably engaged another nation state. Today a country can enter the inter- 
national system and not engage another state, but engage J. P. M organ, the 
Swiss K reditanstalt, and so on. A very good example is when C hina recent- 
ly entered the global capital market with a hundred-year bond issuefrom the 
Chinese government. It was sold in N ew York and in H ong Kong China did 
not have to deal with the government of the U.S., rather, it dealt with J. P. 
M organ and a few other brokerage firms 

T he overwhelming influence that global firms and markets have gained in 
the last two years in the production, shaping, and use of electronic space, 
parallel with the shrinking role of governments, has created a political vacu- 
um. H owever, it does not have to be a political vacuum. 
Because the ascendance of digitalization is a new source of major transfor- 
mations in society, we need to develop it as one of the driving forces of sus- 
tainable and equitable world development. This should be a key issue in 
political debates about society, particularly about equity and development. 
We should not let business and the market shape "development" and domi- 
nate the policy debate. T he positive side of the new technology, from demo- 
cratic participation to telemedicine, is not necessarily going to come as a 
result of market dynamics 

Further, even in the sites of concentrated power, these technologies can be 
destabilizing T he properties of electronic networks have created elements of 
acrisisof control within the institutionsof thefinancial industry itself. There 
area number of instances that illustrate this— for example— the stock mar- 
ket crash of 1987 brought on by programmed trading and the collapse of 
Barings Bank brought on by a young trader who managed to mobilize enor- 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 02 

mous amounts of capital in several marl<ets over a period of six weeks 
Electronic networks have produced conditions that may not always be con- 
trolled by those who thought to profit the most from these new electronic 
capacities Existing regulatory mechanism do not always cope with the 
volatile nature of electronic markets Precisely because they are deeply 
embedded in telematics, advanced information industries also shed light on 
questions of control in the global economy that not only go beyond the state 
but also beyond the notions of non-state centered systems of coordination 
prevalent in the literature of governance. 

I am convinced that we need to fight for free and public content. But band- 
width is the infrastructure that is intimately linked to the formation and 
multiplication of public activity on the internet. Public space and free con- 
tent have always required access to specific conditions, even if elementary. 
What looms ahead is a sharpening division between a slow moving space 
for those who lack the resources and a fast moving space (quick connec- 
tions, enormous bandwidth) for those who can pay for it. Although it is 
really very different, for illustration we could say that this is a new version 
of an old syndrome: the public busses in poor neighborhoods are often of 
poorer quality than those for rich neighborhoods It seemed, once, like 
these forms of inequality could not be enacted in the internet. Today it 
would seem that they are. 

This is a particular moment in the history of electronic space, a moment 
when powerful corporate players and high-performance networks are 
strengthening the role of private electronic space and altering the structure 
of public electronic space. H owever, it is also a moment when we are seeing 
the emergence of a fairly broad-based— though as yet demographically iso- 
lated— civil society in electronic space. T his sets the stage for contestation. 

[This text is a compilation of excerpts of four texts that appeared on 
Nettime: "The Topoi of E-space: Global Cities and the Global Value 
Chains" (Oct. 28, 1996), "Interview with Andreas Broeckman" (June 12, 
1997), and interviews with Geert Lovink entitled "Bandwidth and 
Accountability" (Hybrid Workspace, Documenta X, Kassel, July 11, 1997) 
and "Public Cyberspaces" (Sept. 25, 1998). Edited by Felix Stalder.J 




DATE: SAT, 17 OCT 1998 11:41:33 -0400 

M edia are never neutral. T hey have biases which deeply affect the cultures 
that create them, and which, in turn, they create. H arold I nnis described the 
most basic type of bias in communication media (Empire and Communications, 
Oxford: Clarendon, 1950, and The Bias of Communication. Toronto: 
L) niversity of Toronto, 1951). H ieroglyphs and stone, he observed, have a 
bias toward time, whereas the alphabet and paper— among other media- 
have a bias toward space. Cultures built on media with a time bias, such as 
ancient Egypt, tend to be more concerned with the organization of time and 
were often governed by a religious bureaucracy C ultures using media with a 
space bias, for example ancient G reece, are generally more concerned with 
the organization of space and privilege secular, state or military bureaucra- 
cies The printing press joined the alphabet and paper into a new medium, 
the printed text, unleashing the full power of their combined space biases 
T his new medium provided the catalyst for phenomena such as the rapid rise 
of the nation-state, the unfolding of scientific rationality, and individuation. 
Communication media and common culture have a close interrelation in 
which the media provide the environment in which the social dynamics 
develop. This environment, however, is not just a simple container, but is a 
set of distinct processes that reconfigure to a varying degree everything that 
is carried out through them. Taken together, these processes form the bias of 
a medium. 

To understand the l<ind of bias introduced into our current culture by the 
spread of computer networks as communication media, the best place to 
investigate is not the internet, but, rather, thefinancial networks In contrast 
to the internet, where almost nothing has found a well developed form yet, 
thefinancial networks have been fully functioning for decades Furthermore, 
mon^ itself is a pure medium in the same way than light is a pure medi- 
um— as M arshall McLuhan once noted: all medium, no content. A similar 
observation was made by K arl M arx, who wrote in his Grundrisse (1857) that 
the circulation of money "as the most superficial (in the sense of driven out 
onto the surface) and the most abstract form of the entire production process 
is in itself quite without content." Being without content, money can have 
any form and still be money It can be a coin in one's pocket or it can be an 
option traded back and forth between London, Tokyo, and New York. 
M onetary value can take on any form that is supported by the medium in 
which it circulates C ompetitive pressures and the relentless chase for profits 
under the logic of postindustrial capitalism push monetary value into ever 
new forms exploiting the full potential of the new media spaces This 
process has consistently expanded the possibilities of the technology to tap 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 04 

into new opportunities for trading. Tlie current financial marl<ets are the 
most advanced and most media-specific electronic space yet created. 
Financial markets have a networl<-based history of some twenty-five years 
In 1973 Reuters started its screen service, which provided dealers with 
information and a shared environment to execute the trading in. In 1979 it 
had already connected 250,000 terminals into the increasingly global mar- 
kets (P. Fallon, "The Age of Economic Reason," Euromoney, June 1994, 
28-35). At this time the internet was still in an embryonic state with little 
more than 100 hosts. In an accelerating volume, huge investments have 
been poured into the expansion of the financial networks The ten largest 
U.S. investment banks, for example, spent in 1995 alone some $17 billion 
on new technologies: this amounts to more than $400,000 per employee in 
just one year (B. Lowell and D. Farrell, M arket U nbound, NY: Wiley, 1996, 
41). Over the last two decades such massive expenditures have turned the 
financial markets from a relatively peripheral, supporting phenomenon into 
the central event of the mainstream economy T his development is driven 
by capitalistic competition, not the technology— there cannot be any illu- 
sions about that— but, nevertheless, the development of the financial mar- 
kets is enabled and deeply affected by advanced network technologies which 
create three self-enforcing dynamics: 

1. T he automation of the financial markets made it possible to increase dra- 
matically the volume of money and transactions By the mid-nineties, about 
500,000 people have been working worldwide in the institutions that make 
up the financial markets (ibid.). They have managed the circulation of more 
than $1500 billion per day By far the biggest single market is the foreign cur- 
rency exchange, which amounts to more than $1300 billion per day In the 
early eighties, the foreign exchange transactions were ten times larger that 
the world trade; in the early nineties they were sixty times larger (S. Sassen, 
Losing Control? NY: Columbia University, 1996, 40). Circulating in ever- 
expandable networks the markets could pick up speed without material fric- 
tion. As the markets have grown beyond any limitations, more money has 
become concentrated there. And with deeper markets, the opportunities to 
make money have expanded, further increasing the incentive to employ the 
most advanced technology 

2. Automation of the markets makes it possible to provide ever more cus- 
tomized services at ever lower rates, allowing for an increased participation 
of small investors: the middle class concerned about their pensions becom- 
ing insecure in crumbling state pension plans N ot only has the volume of 
transactions handled in the markets increased, but also the number of mar- 
ket participants and the demographic profile of those participants has 
changed. It shifted from highly educated professionals to the upper and mid- 
dle-class segments of the general public. Information technology provided 
the means for putting an easy-to-use interface in front of extremely complex 
processes M utual funds and other previously exotic financial products have 
become advertised heavily in mass media in recent years Access through 
home computers has been created. 

3. Increased computerization and increased volume lead to a simultaneous 
integration and fragmentation of the markets. 0 n the one hand, more and 


more abstract, complex and entirely computer-based products— such as 
derivatives— greatly expand tlie number and types of tools available to bro- 
kers and their customers On the other, the marl<ets fragmented into a 
plethora of submarkets New submarkets create new possibilities for arbi- 
trage—that is, purchasing financial products on one market for immediate 
resale on another market to profit from a price discrepancy— which are 
based on the real-time processing of information. 
Pushed to the extreme by these self-enforcing dynamics, the fully integrated 
financial networks offer the clearest picture of the bias of networks, a bias 
that affects in one way or another everything that is done through them. 


The financial markets have become their own integral environment which 
not only communicates, but also produces the events communicated— the 
rise and the fall of prices Assuch, these networksare content and context at 
the same time. T he surrounding larger social and economic environment is 
structurally separated and its relevance is assessed according to whether it 
has to be translated into the closed universe of the financial market or not. 
News, for example, isevaluated primarily from the vantage point of whether 
it is going to influence the fever curve of the market. The importance of 
information is decided within the markets and is independent from the 
"value" of the information as such. The context of the market defines the 
content of the information. If everyone expects a company or a country to 
report huge losses, then the news of merely moderate losses boosts the price. 
I n contrast, if everyone expects the opposite, the same piece of information 
can have a devastating influence on the market value of the asset. 
As an integral environment, the financial networks are fully self-referential. 
Everything that counts happens within the networks The single most impor- 
tant questions is: What are the other participants doing? Since the direct 
connection to other environments is broken, the ultimate determination of 
the (immediate) future takes place within the markets themselves Evidently 
the markets react very fast to new information and the consequences of 
political and economic events are almost immediate Nevertheless, the con- 
nection is indirect. The markets as a closed system react to news because the 
dealers, or the artificial intelligence systems, expect each other to react and 
each tries to react before everyone else. It is the expectation of a reaction to 
an event that drives the development, not the event itself. John M . Kernes 
described this structure in his famous beauty contest analogy: 

Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in 
which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred 
photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most 
nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so 
that each competitor has to pick, not those faces he himself finds the prettiest, 
but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all 
of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not the case 
of choosing those which, to the best of one's judgment, are really the prettiest, 
not even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 06 

reached the third degree, where we devote our intelligence to anticipating what 
average opinion expects average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, 
who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees. (The General Theory of 
Employment, Interest and Money, London: Macmillan, 1936, 156) 

Evidently, Keynes described that tendency long before the advent of com- 
puter networks Because it was such a perfect match of the general dynam- 
ics of financial markets and the bias of networks the technology proved to be 
such an explosive catalyst when they were combined in the early seventies 
T he merger of content and context became expressed most clearly in the 
infrastructure. Reuters, which started in 1849 asa pigeon carrier for send- 
ing stock exchange data from Brussels to Aachen in order to bridge the 
gap between the Belgian and the German telegraph lines, is today's lead- 
ing provider of news to the financial markets, a service that is delivered 
over a proprietary network. It brings news and prices directly to customer 
screens, providing datafeedsto financial markets, and the software tools to 
analyze the data. This data covers currencies, stocks, bonds, futures, 
options, and other instruments Its main customers are the world's leading 
financial institutions, traders, brokers, dealers, analysts, investors, and cor- 
porate treasurers. However, Reuters not only provides the news for the 
market, it is also the environment of the markets themselves It provides 
thetoolsfor dealers to contact counterparts through a Reuters communi- 
cations network in order to do the actual tradings. Through proprietary 
instruments Reuters enables traders to deal from their keyboards in such 
markets as foreign exchange, futures, options, and securities Consumer of 
news and producer of news merge and the network displays instantly to 
everyone what everyone else does Reuters, in other words produces 
(parts of ) the news itself that are then sold back, stimulating the produc- 
tion of further news 


The self-referentiality of the network environment creates information 
which has to be taken at face value. Its reality is as flat as the screen on 
which the data is displayed, its only relation is to other information of the 
same flatness, other screens to which every screen is connected. T his radi- 
cal decontextualization permits the increased speeding up of its circulation, 
which again eliminates the possibility for checking the veracity of the infor- 
mation. In such an environment news and rumors become equally impor- 
tant. Sometimes rumors become even more important than news, since they 
hold the promise of predicting for the insider what might be news tomor- 
row for everyone. What will be, accurate speculation into the future, is the 
most valuable information and can actually become the cause of tomor- 
row's news If some of the major dealers expect a currency to lose value, 
the^ will start to sell it, which will be seen by others as a sign that the value 
of this currency is falling. T he result is that, if many start to sell, the value 
of the currency is actually sinking: G eorge Soros's reflexivity ("T he C apitalist 
Threat," Atlantic M onthly 279.2, February 1997, 45-58). This has been 
staged over and over in the recurrent currency crises, be it the European in 
1992-93 or the Asian in 1997. 


Jean Baudrillard has put this reversal of the relationship of expectation and 
event, of sign and object, at the core of his thinking. "We are in the logic of 
simulation" he declares, "which has nothing to do with the logic of facts and 
theorder of reasons Simulation is characterized by a precession of themodel, of 
all models around the merest fact— the models come first, and their orbital 
(like the bomb) circulation constitutes the genuine magnetic field of events 
Facts no longer have any trajectory of their own, they arise at the intersec- 
tion of the models" (Simulations, NY: Semiotext[e], 1983, 31-32). 
Not anticipated in the gloomy metaphors of Baudrillard is the effect of that 
reversal in the network environment: cooperation. Since networks are tools 
and environment at the same time, everyone who uses the tools is dependent 
on the maintenance of the environment. Since the environment is closed, 
there can be no outside position for anyone who wants to participate It is not 
incidental that the game metaphor is dominant in the financial markets 
Every market player cooperates to uphold the rules, the parameters of the 
game, but within these limited bounds, each tries to kill the other. 
Financial markets can only function efficiently at high speed when informa- 
tion can actually be taken at face value To guarantee this they have to be 
structurally separated from other environments C rucial for this is the institu- 
tion of the clearing house. A clearing house functions as a "middleman" that 
acts as a seller to all buyers and as a buyer to all sellers: it is the guarantor of 
the ultimate fulfillment of the contract. Thus contracts can be exchanged 
impersonally between numerous parties on both sides without any having to 
worry about the others' ability or willingness to carry out their obligations 
T he largest private sector payments network in the world is C learing H ouse 
I nterbank Payments System (C H I PS) in N ew York C ity. About 182,000 inter- 
bank transfers valued at nearly $1.2 trillion are made daily through the net- 
work. This represent about 90 percent of all interbank transfers relating to 
international dollar payments A clearing house can be understood as an out- 
sourced and institutionalized system of trust designed to cope with an anony- 
mous and chaotic environment. It is a communal insurance institution for 
guaranteeing that the constant flow within the networks is not interrupted by 
external events such as the default of one of the participants Without the 
clearing house, such a "real life" event would be translated directly into the 
network. T he possibility of such a direct impact would destroy the face value 
of the information. The clearing house, then, can be read as a buffer that pre- 
vents the direct, uncushioned impact of the external environment from 
breaking open the closed circuits Without this buffer, the exchange of infor- 
mation would slow down considerably because the value of the information 
would have to be verified outside the network itself 
I n the network environment, then, the condition of staying a member of the 
network is to provide information that can betaken at face value T he posi- 
tion of a player isdetermined by the information he, she, or it delivers to the 
other players the faster and the more accurate the information is the more 
relevant the source becomes Since everyone is connected with everyone, 
reliable information gets delivered to the environment as such. Even in the 
most competitive environments this connectiveness forces a certain form of 
collaboration. What seems paradoxical is a characteristic of the network 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 08 

media: they configure communities defined by a distinction between inside 
and outside. T he distinction is maintained by cooperation to build tlie com- 
munal environment, even if it is then used to stage fierce competition. 


A network's connectiveness is not only defined by its ability to connect peo- 
ple across time and space, a second characteristic is a tendency to integrate 
formerly independent elements on a higher level of abstraction. Abstraction 
allows the construction of larger areas of control, in the financial markets 
through instruments such as options. T hey are the right but not the obliga- 
tion to buy or sell an underlying asset for a predetermined price in thefuture. 
T his allows traders to speculate much more extensively on the movements of 
the markets independent from the direction of this movement. However, 
since options permit speculation on the movement of the asset rather than 
on the asset itself, these instruments become more volatile and, at the same 
time, the environment less predictable. There are simply too many factors to 
exercise real control. Increased abstraction and its possibilities to extend 
influence over ever greater area create a paradox of control. "When a mul- 
titude of different and competing actors" as G eoff M uigan notes, "seek to 
improve their control capacities, then the result at the level of the system is 
a breakdown of control. What is rational at the micro level becomes highly 
irrational at the macro level" (Communication and Control, Networks and the New 
Economies of Communication, NY: Guilford, 1991, 29). The unpredictability isa 
result not of too little but too much control. 

With the number of connections and the speed of communication rising, the 
predictability and controllability of the system as a whole is decreasing. T he 
reconfiguration of control and unpredictability is similar to the reconfigura- 
tion of cooperation and competition: which aspect is foregrounded depends 
on the position of the observer. From the inside, the cooperative structure of 
the financial networks provides the invisible environment for deeply chaotic 
and intense competition. From the outside, this competition turns into a 
zero-sum game and the markets represent a single cooperative logic, the 
"commodified democracy of profit making" (Castells), executed in a tightly 
controlled framework dominated by a very small number of global financial 
giants T hese fundamental differences based on an inside or outside position 
of the observer illustrate how closed the financial networks are and how self- 
referential their logic is. 

In general, networks reconfigure not only aspects of control with unpre- 
dictability, cooperation with competition, and content with context, but they 
also connect action with reaction, event with news, into the continuity of flows 
The dealers see instantly what others do, which creates the basis of their 
actions, which are fed back to the other dealers building their decisions upon 
them. This constant feedback eliminates the separation of events and news, 
action and reaction, before and after, and merges them into a constant pres- 
ence "Thespace of flows," asM anuel Castells observes "dissolvestime by dis- 
ordering the sequence of events and making them simultaneous thus installing 
society in an eternal ephemerality" (M . Castells, T he Rise of theNSworkSodety, 
vol. 1: T he I nformation Age, Cambridge M ass.: Blackwell, 1996, 467). 



Global financial marl<ets are to computer networks what the Reformation 
was to the printing press: the first major social event enabled by the new 
technology. Financial marl<ets have not been created by the new technology 
they existed long before. H owever, new technologies have been the catalyst 
which connected heterogeneous trends into a self-enforcing dynamic. 
Because those trends fit the bias of the medium they could expand out of all 
proportion, creating new social conditions which reflect the impact of this 
bias in the specific historic context. Every single element of the financial 
markets existed independently for decades. The first clearing house, for 
example, was founded by the Chicago Board of Trade in 1874, but only the 
network conditions raised this institution to its current, central importance. 
As the Reformation was not caused by the printing press, the financial mar- 
kets are not the fate of the networks T he new technology has been a cata- 
lyst that has hugely augmented the impact of a series of economic and polit- 
ical decisions taken in the last thirty years H owever, it did not simply aug- 
ment the impact of these decisions, by reflecting them through their own 
bias the new technologies have deeply shaped outcome. The bias of net- 
works lies in the creation of a new space-time condition of binary states of 
presence or absence. I n the network environment everything that is the case 
is here and now (inside the network), and everything else in nowhere and 
never (outside the network). T he translation from one state to the other is 
instantaneous and discontinuous T he experience of any sequence is intro- 
duced by the user, that is, from outside the network, and is arbitrary from the 
point of view of the possibilities of the network. 
W hile this newly created space- time is the ingredient added by the technol- 
ogy, the result of its catalytic potential is deeply affected by the conditions 
under which it is brought to bear. The financial markets grew not only 
because the technology provided the ground for it, but also because regula- 
tory restrictions have been removed under the increasing influence of 
neoliberalism. While the bias of the medium largely lies outside social influ- 
ence, the quality of the culture incorporating this bias is— and has always 
been— shaped by society itself 



ALBANIA 1 996-98 

DATE: WED, 30 SEP 1998 11:22:29 -0400 

T he events surrounding the Albanian pyramid schemes were more than just 
oddities in a poor country that had been isolated for decades Asa result of spe- 
cific historical conditionsy the connection between speculative capitalism, the 
criminal economy and authoritarian political regimes suddenly appeared with 
unusual clarity T he dynamics that are normally hidden in the sophisticated and 
opaque language of financial markets became transparent in the simple and 
unglamorous Albanian context. While the specifics of the Albanian situation 
were unique, similar dynamicsy albeit more behind closed doorsy have led to col- 
lapse of the Russian financial system and fueled the ups and downs of the 
financial markets every day As the most extreme case of speculative capitalism 
gone crazy they are worth chronicling once again, at a time when lights are 
going off in the global casinos in New York, London, Tokyo, and Zurich. 

Pyramid schemes all over. 


Following the irregular elections of M ay 26, 1996, the situation in Albania 
deteriorated very quickly Seeking political benefit, the government of the 
Democratic Party (DP), which illegitimately won about 90 percent of the 
seats in the Parliament, had allowed the rise of strange structures called 
"charity foundations" These structures were pyramid schemes, initially little 
more than money-laundering operations, offering interest rates ranging from 
ten to 25 percent per month. The first investors received the promised inter- 
est, paid with the money of the later investors With the apparent success of 
the "foundations," the euphoria spread very quickly to all levels of Albanian 
society, and in a few months' time almost everybody was putting mon^ into 
these get-rich-quick schemes It is estimated that close to U S$1.5 billion was 
invested in more than ten schemes This in a country where the average 
monthly income was only some U S$80. People sold their houses, property, 
and land to invest the proceeds in the pyramids, while economic emigrants 
working in neighboring countries— Greece and Italy— withdrew money 
from their bank accounts to transfer it to the schemes in Albania. A large 
number of Albanians invested their life savings and more. 
T he DP avoided any information about the functioning of such structures— 
in the beginning they simply ignored the dangers, and later they forced the 
governor of the Albanian National Bank to stop warning people about them. 
But, of course, the danger was unavoidable; the system of paying interest to 
early investors with the capital of later investors could only last as long as 

Long before the Albanian scheme, 
there was a Romanian one. 
(Romanians had always the obses- 
sion to be the first and— according- 
iy— the frustration of not being 
acknowiedged as such.) The differ- 
ence was I guess in scaie: Romania 
is iess poorthan Aibania, with a big- 
ger territory and therefore with iess 
homogenous behavior at microeco- 
nomic ieveis. Therefore the styie of 
the coiiapse was iighter and didn't 
reach the traumatic dimensions of a 
civil war. Moreover, the pyramid had 
a face in the person of its charismat- 
ic promoter and director, a certain 
Mr Stoica. After the coiiapse, he 
gave interviews with energetic state- 
ments about his innocence and 
went to jaii as a martyr for the good 
cause of enhching the poor I under- 
stand that he also published a vol- 
ume of memoirs during his (other- 
wise brief) detention. Insistent 
rumors were circulating about the 
connection between the scheme 
and the financial empowerment of 
the Romanian nationalist party 
(PUNR) via the politically oriented 
bank system of the country. [Calin 
Dan <>. Other 
Pyramid Schemes, Sun, 20 Sept 
1998 11:19:13 -tOlOO] 

NEniM E / MARKETS / PACE 1 1 1 

increasing numbers of people continued to invest. However, tlie scliemes 
became so massively popular that anyone who said a word against them 
would appear to be opposed to the entire nation. I n 0 ctober 1996, when the 
International M onetary Fund (I M F) warned of the risks, even the opposition 
parties preferred to say nothing 

T he connections between the leaders of the criminal economy and the lead- 
ers of the authoritarian party, the D P, were close. I n some election posters in 
southern Albania, the names of powerful sponsors— pyramid bosses- 
appeared beside the names of Democratic Party candidates Feeding bacl< 
some of the money, the D P in effect bought the people's votes with the peo- 
ple's own mon^, extracted from them with the party's help through the 
pyramid schemes As the opposition Social Democratic Party's leader, 
Skender Gjinushi, said, "T he people's money was spent on buying votes" 
T he schemes started wobbling in autumn 1996. T he continued operation of 
the schemes was dependent largely on confidence; once this was shaken, new 
investments dried up. By mid-December two of the smaller schemeshad col- 
lapsed, and questions were being asked about the major schemes, in which 
tens of millions had been invested. H aving been assured of the legitimacy of 
the schemes in advance by the government and the president, people's anger 
toward the government and the DP started to rise. With the fall of one of the 
important schemes based in the south of Albania, the revolt burst out and 
sparked the political and social crisis On the afternoon of January 15, 1997, 
a battle erupted in Tirana. The first stones were thrown by angry people who 
had put their money into failed investment schemes T heir target was the pri- 
vate residence of a promoter of one of the schemes 
T he government's initial response, on January 14, was a decree limiting the 
amount any single investor could withdraw from the schemes to $300,000 
per day T his was clearly intended to prevent a run on the schemes But its 
effect was to hit confidence further and to focus anger onto the government. 
T his anger was expressed at a major demonstration in Tirana on January 19, 
organized by the Socialist Party and other opposition groups The govern- 
ment tried to suppress it with police brutality thus heightening tension. As 
the protests spread across the country the government blamed the opposi- 
tion and cracked down hard, arresting protesters and imposing severe jail 
sentences and fines on them. 

But it was also clear that the government had to be seen to be acting against 
the schemes 0 n January 21, it announced a commission to investigate them, 
and seized the assets of some Two days later, it banned pyramid schemes 
altogether and arrested the leaders of some major ones At the same time, it 
arrested the leaders of various opposition groups whom it blamed for incit- 
ing the trouble 

T he trouble worsened thereafter, with major demonstrations on the weekend 
of January 25-26. Fighting was reported between protesters and police in 
T irana. T he cities became a battleground for demonstrators and riot police, 
and dozens of government buildings were burned or destroyed. The most 
dramatic and violent scenes were in the towns of Lushnja, Berat, and VIora, 
and in the capital, Tirana, where riot police attacked opposition leaders, 
journalists and protesters But the epicenter of protest became the square in 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 1 2 

VIora where, at the turn of the century, Albanians had proclaimed their 
independence. Today, VIora is known as the capital of the pyramid schemes, 
because most of them originated there. 

Albania was now facing itsmost seriouscrisissince the fall of communism in 
1991. T he military was deployed in order to guard public buildings and keep 
the peace, despite doubts as to whose side they might take. 1 1 was after these 
proteststhatthe government was forced to promise investorsthat they would 
get their money back. T he problem was that the assets the government has 
seized from schemes were thought to total an estimated $300,000, while loss- 
es were around one billion dollars, about four times the amount of the coun- 
try's foreign currency reserves at the time. M eanwhile, the Albanian curren- 
cy the lek, lost some 35 percent of its value on the currency black market. It 
quickly became clear that, even then, most investors would receive only 
about thirty to fifty percent of the amount they had invested, and that most 
of that might be in government bonds rather than cash. Worse yet, the cash 
would be in the fast-fading lek rather than the U.S. dollars that many of the 
schemes had demanded from investors. 

As the situation worsened theDP declared astateof emergency With this, 
they completely isolated Albania from the rest of the world. T hey decided 
to ban radio stations, close newspapers, and take over all local TV stations. 
Fortunately the closure of the satellite frequencies lasted only forty-eight 
hours. People started to look for radio stations on the shortwave frequen- 
cies, which couldn't be banned. But the newspapers remained closed for 
more than one month and the office of the biggest independent newspa- 
per, Koha J one— supported by the Soros Foundation— was burned down by 
the secret police. During this time, email remained one of the most impor- 
tant sources of information, unfortunately with very little access There 
was only one server in the country UNDP, which was part of an experi- 
mental program meant to give N G 0 s and universities access 
Few institutions could make use of an available AO L account, which was 
very expensive since it required making an international call to 
Switzerland. It was also believed that outgoing email from the U NDP serv- 
er was being monitored. 

In the meantime, the West was most concerned that the Albanian trouble 
would spread. Since the country was not connected to international capital 
flows the threat was not seen as an economic one, but as the danger of mass 
exodus people following their capital into the West. T he 0 rganization on 
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sent an envoy and early elec- 
tions were arranged. Italy target of a possible mass immigration, assembled 
a force for Operation Alba after receiving a U.N. mandate. Various other 
European countries— including France, Greece, Turkey Spain, Romania, 
Austria, and Denmark— participated in the contingent, which arrived in 
Albania in mid-April. 

The parliamentary electionsin latejuneand earlyjuly 1997 proceeded with- 
out major incident. Despite fears to the contrary theelections were a success 
and ultimately led to the restoration of at least a modicum of law and order. 
Now, in 1998, the slow recovery process is still underway and the last 
schemes are being dismantled. Earlier in the year, the French auditing com- 

MUKA: First of all, we cannot talk in 
terms of a civii war. It never tool< 
piace. I ann an anarchist myself, and 
I would never caii this anarchy. The 
mess in Albania was caused by the 
leading force, the Democratic Party 
and Its government. It was a peo- 
ple's protest. The element of vio- 
lence we faced was of a very specif- 
ic nature. There was not any vio- 
lence used during the time of the 
protests. Ail the protests were held 
without any arms— at least on the 
side of the people. Of course the 
police were armed and fired shots In 
the air and sometimes into the 
crowd. At a certain point the govern- 
ment surrounded the whole city of 
VIora and was intending to send the 
army in, but exactly at that moment, 
the army disobeyed and abandoned 
their positions. That is why we had 
such a mess. [Geert Lovink <geert:^>. Interview with EdI Muka, 
August 1, 1997] 

NEniM E / MARKETS / PACE 1 1 3 

pany Deloitte and louche found that the VEFA investment company had 
only seven million dollars in assets after having received more than three 
hundred million dollars from some 90,000 investors If and how VEFA 
owner Vehbi Alimucaj laundered $40 million into his private bank accounts 
in Greece is still being investigated. 

During all of this, most Albanians have waited in vain for the return of their 
savings All they are left with are memories of the grand gestures paid for 
with their money: of how the pyramid company Gjallica blew a million dol- 
lars on a M iss Europa contest in Tirana; how VEFA paid $450,000 for an 
advertisement on Eurosport; how X haferi paid $400,000 for an Argentinian 
football star to run the local team in Lushnja. 



DATE: MON, 3 AUG 1998 23:17:35 -0700 


M uch of the economic activity on the net involves value but no money U ntil 
a few years ago, there was almost no commercial activity on the internet. 
T he free resources of the net still greatly outweigh all commercial resources 
It is quite hard to put a price on the value of the internet's free resources, at 
least in part because th^^ don't have prices attached. Th^ exist in a market 
of implicit transactions 


Every snippet posted to a discussion group, every little webpage, every skim 
through a FAQ list and every snoop into an online chat session is an act of 
production or consumption, often both. T here is no specific economic value 
inherent in a product. Value lies in the willingness of people to consume a 
good, and this potentially exists in anything that people can produce and 
pass on. 

Even bad writing and even junk mail are parts, however reprehensible, of 
the internet's economy but let's look at a more obvious case, Linux. After all, 
software, in particular large operating-system software occupying up to six 
CD-ROM s when distributed offline, is undeniably an economic good (for 
example. Red Hat Software <>). And Linux, with 
its loosely organized community of developer-users and its no-charge policy, 
undeniably has an economic logic that seems, at first, new. 


LinusTorvaldsdid not release Linux source code free of charge to the world 
asa lark, or because he was naive, but because it was a "natural decision with- 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 1 4 

in the community that [he] felt [he] wanted to be a part of" (quoted from per- 
sonal correspondence with Torvalds). Any economic logic of this communi- 
ty—the internet— must be found somewhere in that "natural decision." It is 
found in whatever it was that motivated Torvalds like so many others on the 
net, to act as he did and produce without direct monetary payment. 
Of course, it is the motivation behind people's patterns of consumption and 
production that forms the marrow of economics Figuring out what moti- 
vates, let alone measuring it, is always difficult but it is even tougher when 
price tags don't exist. It is simpler just to assume that motivations only exist 
when prices are attached, and not attempt to find economic reason in actions 
motivated by things other than mon^; simpler, therefore, just to assume as 
we often do that the internet has no economic logic at all. 
T his is wrong. T he best portions of our lives usually do come without price 
tags on them; that they're the best parts imply that they have value to us, 
even if they don't cost money. T he pricelessness here doesn't matter much, 
not unless you're trying to build an economic model for love, friendship, and 
fresh air. 0 n the internet, through much of its past, the bulk of its present, 
and the best of its foreseeable future, prices often don't matter at all. People 
don't seem to want to pay— or charge— for the most popular goods and serv- 
ices that breed on the internet. N ot only is information usually free on the 
net, it even wants to be free, so they say 

But frffi is a tricky word: like love, information— however free in terms of 
hard cash— is extremely valuable. So it makes sense to assume that the three 
million people on the internet who publish about matters of their interest on 
their homepageson the web, and the several million who contributeto com- 
munities in the form of newsgroups and mailing lists, and of course anyone 
who ever writes free software, believe they're getting something out of it for 
themselves T hey are clearly not getting cash; their "payment" might be the 
contributions from others that balance their own work, or something as 
intangible as the satisfaction of having their words read by millions around 
the world. 

While writing my weekly newspaper column on the information society 
(E lectric D reams [ED] <http:/ / dreams/ >), I was distributing an e- 
mail version free of charge on the internet. A subscription to the e-mail col- 
umn was available to anyone who asked, and a number of rather well known 
people began to receive the column each week. M y readers often responded 
with useful comments; I often wondered whether people would pay for a 
readership like this Having many readers adds to your reputation; they 
make good contacts, helping you out in various ways Simply by reading 
what you write, they add value to it— an endorsement, of sorts So who 
should pay whom— the reader for the work written, or the writer for the 
work read ("Paying Your Readers," E D 67)? 

T he notion that attention has value is not new and has been formally ana- 
lyzed in the advertising industry for decades The "attention economy" has 
been described in recent papers in the context of information and the inter- 
net (M . Goldhaber, "The Attention Economy" First Monday 2.4 
<http:// www.firstmondaydk/ issues/ issue2_4/ goldhaber/ index. html>; R . 
A. Lanham, "T he Economics of Attention" <http:// sunsiteberkeleyedu/ 

NEniM E / MARKETS / PAGE 1 1 5 

ARL/ Proceedings^ 124/ ps2econ.html>). It would be facile to suggest that 
attention necessarily fias innate value of its own. H owever, more often tlian 
not, attention is a proxy for furtlier value. T his may appear in tlie form of 
useful comments (or bug reports from Linux users), assistance, and contacts, 
or simply as an enhanced reputation that translates into better access to 
things of value at a later point. 

Even those who have never studied economics have an idea of its basic princi- 
ples: that prices rise with scarcity and fall in a glut, that they are settled when 
what consumers will pay matches what producers can charge T hese principles 
obviously work, as can be seen in day-to-day life But that's the "real world" of 
things you can drop on your toe Will they worl< in a l<nowledge economy? After 
all, thisiswhereyou frequently don't really know what the "thing" isthat you're 
buying or selling, or clearly when it is that you're doing it, or, as in the case of 
my column, even whether you're buying— or selling Contrary to what many 
doom-sayers and hype-mongers suggest, it always seemed to me that the basic 
principles of economics would work in an economy of knowledge, information, 
and expertise. T hey are, after all, not only logical on the surface but also prac- 
tically proven over centuries— a powerful combination. Even if the internet 
appears to behave strangely in how it handles value, there is no reason to believe 
that if it had an economic model of its own, this would contradict the economic 
principlesthat have generally worked. However, if a textbook definition of eco- 
nomics as the "study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable 
commodities and distribute them among different people" remainsas valid now 
as ever, almost all the terms in there need reexamination (P. A. Samuelson and 
W. D. Nordhaus Economics, 15th ed., NY: McGraw-H ill, 1995). This is because 
the same peculiar economic behavior of the net suggests that it has developed 
its own model, the economic model of the information age 
T heT imesof India sells some three million copies every day across India. The 
whole operation, particularly the coordination of advertising and editorial, 
depends on RespNet. This internal network won the Times a listing in 
ComputffWorld magazine's selection of the world's best corporate users of 
information technology RespNet runs on Linux and other similar free soft- 
ware off the net. 

Raj M athur, who set up Linux on RespNet, agrees with Torvalds when the 
latter says "people who are entirely willing to pay for the product and sup- 
port find that the Linux way of doing things is often superior to 'real' com- 
mercial support." This is thanks to the large community of other developers 
and users who share problems and solutions and provide constant (sometimes 
daily) improvements to the system. The developer-users naturally include 
operators of networks similar to RespNet. So many of them can separately 
provide assistance that might not be available if they were all working togeth- 
er in a software company— as Linux Inc.— where they would be producers of 
the software but not consumers This shifting base of tens of thousands of 
developers-users worldwide working on Linux means that the Tims of India 
would have a tough time figuring out whom to pay if it wanted to. 
T he fact that people go looking for other people on the internet, and that 
Linux developers look for others like them, is just one instance of the 
immediacy of much of the trade that takes place on the net. When you 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 1 6 

post your message to rec.pets.cats, or create a home page— whether per- 
sonal or full of your hobbies and work— you are continuously involved in 
trade. Other cat-lovers trade your message with theirs, visitors to your home- 
page trade your content with their responses, or perhaps you get the satis- 
faction of l<nowing that you're popular enough to get a few thousand people 
discovering you each weel<. Even when you don't charge for what you create, 
you're trading it, because you're using your work to get the worl< of others 
(or the satisfaction of popularity) in a discussion group through your website 
What is most important about this immediacy of the implicit trades that go 
on all the time on the net is its impact on notions of value. Unlike in the 
"real world," where things tend to have a value, as expressed in a pricetag, 
that is sluggish in response to change and relatively static across its individ- 
ual consumers, on the net everything is undergoing constant revaluation. 
Without the intermediary of money, there are always two sides to every 
transaction, and every transaction is potentially unique, rather than being 
based on a value derived through numerous similar trades between oth- 
ers—that is, the pricetag. 

As we continue to alternate between examples from the worlds of free soft- 
ware and Usenet— to reiterate their equivalence in economic terms— we can 
see the two-sided nature of trade in this hypothetical example about cats 
You may value the participants in rec. pets cats enough to post a long note on 
the nomadic habits of your torn. In a different context— such as when the 
same participants are quarreling over the relative abilities of breeds to catch 
mice— you may not find it worthwhile contributing, because the topic bores 
you. And you may be far less generous in your contributions to rec.petsdogs 
You value the discussion on dogs, and catching mice, much less than a dis- 
cussion on tomcats, so you're not willing to make a contribution. T his would 
be "selling" your writing cheap; but when you get feedback on tomcats in 
exchange for your post, it's the right price 

U nlike noodles and bread, readers on internet newsgroups don't come with 
pricetags pinned on, so commonplace decisions involving your online acts of 
production require that you figure out the relative values of what you get and 
what you give, all the time Others are figuring out the worth of your con- 
tribution all the time, too. Life on the internet is like a perpetual auction with 
ideas instead of money. 

T hat note on your tomcat probably does not deserve the glorious title of 
idea; certainly the warm feeling that you got in exchange for posting it— 
when people responded positively and flocked to your homepage to see pic- 
tures of your cat— couldn't possibly be classed with "real ideas" Still, for the 
sake of convenience the subjects of trade on the net can be categorized as 
idea (goods and services) and reputation (which when enhanced brings all 
those warm, satisfied feelings, and more tangible benefits too). 
Ideas are sold for other ideas or an enhanced reputation; reputations are 
enhanced among buyers of ideas, and reputations are themselves bought 
and sold all the time for other reputations as we shall see later. The basic dif- 
ference is that reputation (or attention) is like money a proxy It is not pro- 
duced or consumed in itself, but is a byproduct of the underlying production 
of actual goods ("ideas" in our binary terminology). 

NEniM E / MARKETS / PACE 1 1 7 


Unlike the markets of the "real world," where trade is denominated in some 
form of money, on the net every trade of ideas and reputations is a direct, 
equal exchange, in forms derivative of barter. T his means that not only are 
there two sides to every trade, as far as the transaction of exchanging one 
thing for another goes (which also applies to trades involving money), there 
are also two points of view in any exchange, two conceptions of where the 
value lies (In a monetary transaction, by definition, both parties see the 
value as fixed by the price) 

As the poster of notes on tomcats, the value of your posting something is 
in throwing your note into the cooking pot of participatory discussion that 
is rec.petscats and seeing what comes out. As the author of a page on cats, 
what you value in exchange for your words and photographs is the visits 
and comments of others On the other hand, as a participant on 
rec.pets.cats I value your post for its humor and what it tells me to expect 
when my kitten grows up; as a visitor to your webpage I learn about cats 
and enjoy pretty pictures 

W hen I buy your book about cats it's clear that I am the consumer, you the 
producer. 0 n the net, this clear black-and-white distinction disappears; any 
exchange can be seen as two simultaneous transactions with interchanging 
roles for producer and consumer. In one transaction, you are buying feed- 
back to your ideas about cats; in the other, I am buying those ideas I n the 
"real world" this would happen in a very roundabout manner, through at 
least two exchanges: in one, I pay for your book in cash; in the next, you send 
me a check for my response. T his does not happen very often! (T he excep- 
tion is in the academic world, where neither of us would get money from the 
J ournal of Cat Studis for our contributions; instead our employers would pay 
usto think about cats) 

As soon as you see that every message posted and every website visited is an 
act of trade— as is the reading or publishing of a paper in an academic jour- 
nal— any pretense is lost that these acts have inherent value as economic 
goods with a pricetag 

In a barter exchange the value of nothing is absolute Both parties to a 
barter have to provide something of value to the other; this something is not 
a universally or even widely accepted intermediary such as money There 
can be no formal pricetags, as an evaluation must take place on the spot at 
the time of exchange When you barter you are in general not likely to 
exchange your produce for another's in order to make a further exchange 
with that. 

When the contribution of each side to a barter is used directly by the other, 
it further blurs the distinction between buyer and seller. In the "real world" 
barter did not, of course, take place between buyer and seller but between 
two producer-consumers in one transaction. When I trade my grain for your 
chicken, there's no buyer or seller, although one of us may be hungrier than 
or have different tastes from the other. On the internet, say in the Linux 
world, where it may seem at first that there's a clear buyer (theT imesof India) 
and an equally clear, if aggregate seller (the Linux developer community), 
there is in fact, little such distinction. 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 1 8 

Just as the existence of the thousands of independent Linux developers are 
valuable to the newspaper because they are also users of the product— and 
may face similar problems— other Linux developers welcome the T imes of 
I ndia because the way it faces its problems could help them as L inux users 


Perhaps you will agree that when you next post a note on cats, you're not giv- 
ing away something for nothing But what you get in return is often pretty 
intangible stuff— satisfaction, participation in discussion, and even answers 
to cat-related questions are all very well, and may be fair exchange for your 
own little notes, but don't seem substantial enough to make much of an 
economy As for Linux— it's fine to talk about a large base of user-develop- 
ers all helping one another, but what has all this brought Linus Torvalds? 
Although Linux did get vastly improved by the continuing efforts of others, 
none of this would have happened without Torvalds's original version, 
released free. Assuming that he's not interested in Linux asa hobby, he's got 
to make a living somehow. Doesn't he seem to have just thrown away a great 
product for nothing? 

First, let's see what intangible "payment" Linux brought Torvalds In the cir- 
cles that might matter to Torvalds's career, he's a sort of god. As government 
and academic participation has declined asa proportion of the total inter- 
net developer community most recent "free" technology has not been subsi- 
dized, either. T he main thing people like Torvalds get in exchange for their 
work is an enhanced reputation. So there are, in fact, lots of net gods 
Net gods get hungry though, and reputation doesn't buy pizzas So what 
does Torvalds do? As it turns out, he was still in the U niversity of H elsinki 
(in October 1996, when I first interviewed him; he's now with a U.S. com- 
pany where "it's actually in [his] contract [to do] Linux part-time"). "Doing 
Linux hasn't officially been part of my job description, but that's what I've 
been doing," he says H is reputation helped: as Torvalds says "in a sense I 
do get my pizzas paid for by Linux indirectly" Wasthisin an academic sense, 
perhaps? IsLinux, then, just another of those apparently free things that has 
actually been paid for by an academic institution, or by a government? Not 
quite Torvalds remained in the university out of choice, not necessity. Linux 
has paid back, because the reputation it's earned him is a convertible com- 
modity "Yes you can trade in your reputation for money" says Torvalds " 
[so] I don't exactly expect to go hungry if I decide to leave the university. 
'Resume: L inux' looks pretty good in many places" 


Suppose you live in a world where people trade chicken and grain and 
cloth— a very basic economy indeed! Suddenly one day some strangers 
appear and offer to sell you a car; you want it, but "Sorry" says one of the 
strangers "we don't take payment in chicken; gold, greenbacks or plastic 
only" What do you do? It's not hard to figure out that you have to find some 
way to convert your chicken into the sort of commodities acceptable to car 
dealers You have to find someone willing to give you gold for your chicken, 
or someone who'll give you something you can trade in yet again for gold, 

NEniM E / MARKETS / PACE 1 1 9 

and so on. As long as your chicken is, directly or indirectly convertible into 
gold, you can buy that car. 

W hat holds for chicken in a primitive barter economy holds also for intangi- 
bles such as ideas and reputation in the part of the economy that operates 
on the internet ("Implicit Transactions N eed M oney You Can G ive away" 
E D 70). And some of these intangibles, in the right circumstances, can cer- 
tainly be converted into the sort of mon^^ that buys cars, let alone pizzas to 
keep hunger away T his may not apply to your reputation as a cat enthusi- 
ast, though; it may not apply to all software developers all the time, either. 

0 n the internet— indeed in any knowledge economy— it is not necessary for 
everything to be immediately traded into "real world" mone^. If a significant 
part of your needs are for information products themselves, you do not need 
to trade in your intangible earnings from the products you create for hard cash, 
because you can use those intangibles to "buy" the information you want. So 
you don't have to worry about converting the warm feelings you get from vis- 
its to your cat webpage into dollars, because for your information needs, and 
your activities on the net, the "reputation capital" you make will probably do. 
"The cyberspace 'earnings' I get from Linux," saysTorvalds, "come in the 
format of having a network of people that know me and trust me, and that 

1 can depend on in return. And that kind of network of trust comes in very 
handy not only in cyberspace" As for converting intangible earnings from 
the net, he notes that "the good thing about reputations.. .isthat you still have 
them even though you traded them in. H ave your cake and eat it too!" 

T here is, here, the first glimpse of a process of give and take by which peo- 
pledo lotsof work on their creations— which are distributed not for nothing, 
but in exchange for things of value. People "put it" on the internet because 
they realize that th^ "take out" from it. Although the connection between 
giving and taking seems tenuous at best, it is in fact crucial. Because what- 
ever resources are on the net for you to take out, without payment, were all 
put in by others without payment; the net's resources that you consume were 
produced by others for similar reasons— in exchange for what they con- 
sumed, and so on. So the economy of the net begins to look like a vast trib- 
al cooking pot, surging with production to match consumption, simply 
because everyone understands (instinctively perhaps) that trade need not 
occur in single transactions of barter, and that one product can be 
exchanged for millions at a time T he cooking pot keeps boiling because peo- 
ple keep putting in things as they themselves— and others— take things out. 
Torvalds points out, "I get the other informational products for free regard- 
less of whether I do Linux or not." True. But although nobody knows all the 
time whether your contribution is exceeded by your consumption, everyone 
knows that if all the contributions stopped together there'd be nothing for 
anyone: the fire would go out. And that wouldn't be fun at all. 


If it occurred in brickspace, my cooking-pot model would require fairly 
altruistic participants A real tribal communal cooking pot works on a pretty 
different model, of barter and division of labor (I provide the chicken, you 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 20 

the goat, she the berries, together we share the spiced stew). In our hypo- 
theticai tribe, however, people put what they have in the pot with no guar- 
antee that they're getting a fair exchange, which smacl<s of altruism. 
But on the net, a cool<ing-pot market is far from altruistic, or it wouldn't 
work. T his happens thanks to the major cause for the erosion of value on the 
internet— the problem of infinity ("The Problem with Infinity" ED 63). 
Because it takes as much effort to distribute one copy of an original creation 
as a million, and because the costs are distributed across millions of people, 
you never lose from putting your product in the cooking pot for free, as long 
as you are compensated for its creation. You are not giving away something 
for nothing You are giving away a million copies of something, for at least 
one copy of at least one other thing Since those millions cost you nothing, 
you lose nothing. Nor need there be a notional loss of potential earnings, 
because those million copies are not inherently valuable— the very fact of 
there being a million of them, and theoretically a billion or more— makes 
them worthless. Your effort is limited to creating one— the original— copy of 
your product. You are happy to receive something of value in exchange for 
that one creation. 

What a miracle, then, that you receive not one thing of value in exchange- 
indeed there is no explicit act of exchange at all— but millions of unique 
goods made by others! Of course, you only receive "worthless" copies; but 
since you only need to have one copy of each original product, every one of 
them can have value for you. It is this asymmetry unique to the infinitely 
reproducing internet that makes the cooking pot a viable economic model, 
which it would not be in the long run in any brickspace tribal commune 
With a cooking pot made of iron, what comes out is little more than what 
went in— albeit processed by fire— so a limited quantity can be shared by the 
entire community. This usually leads either to systems of private property 
and explicit barter exchanges, or to the much analyzed "Tragedy of the 
Commons" (G. Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science 162, 
1243-48 <http:// dieoff org/ page95.htm>). 

T he internet cooking pots are quite different, naturally T hey take in what- 
ever isproduced, and give out their entire contents to whoever wants to con- 
sume T he digital cooking pot is obviously a vast cloning machine, dishing 
out not single morsels but clones of the entire pot. But seen one at a time, 
every potful of clones is as valuable to the consumer as were the original 
products that went in. 

T he key here is the value placed on diversity, so that multiple copies of a sin- 
gle product add little value— marginal utility is near zero— but single copies 
of multiple products are, to a single user, of immense value ("Trade Reborn 
Through Diversity," ED 65). If a sufficient number of people put in free 
goods, the cooking pot clones them for everyone, so that everyone gets far 
more value than was put in. 

An explicit monetary transaction— a sale of a software product— is based 
on what is increasingly an economic fallacy: that each single copy of a 
product has marginal value. In contrast, for each distinct product, the 
cooking-pot market rightly allocates resources on the basis of where con- 
sumers see value to be. 



A crucial component of the cooking-pot marl<et model is reputation, the 
counterpoint to ideas. Just as money does not mal<e an economy without 
concrete goods and services, reputation or attention cannot mal<e an econ- 
omy without valuable goods and services, which I have called "ideas," being 
produced, consumed, and traded). 

Like money, reputation is a currency— a proxy— that greases the wheels of 
the economy M onetary currency allows producers to sell to any consumer, 
without waiting for the right one to offer a needed product in barter 
exchange. Reputation encourages producers to seed the cooking pot by pro- 
viding immediate gratification to those who aren't prepared to pull things 
out of the pot just yet, or find nothing of great interest there, and thus keeps 
the fire lit. 

M oney also provides an index of value that aids in understanding not just 
individual goods (or their producers), but the entire economy Reputation, 
similarly, is a measure of the value placed upon certain producer-con- 
sumers— and their products— by others T he flow and interaction of repu- 
tation is a measure of the health of the entire cooking-pot economy 
U nlike money, reputation is not fixed, nor does it come in the form of sin- 
gle numerical values It may not even be cardinal. M oreover, while a mon- 
etary value in the form of price is the result of matching demand and sup- 
ply over time, reputation is more hazy In the common English sense, it is 
equivalent to price, having come about through the combination of multi- 
ple personal attestations (the equivalent of single money transactions). 
Money wouldn't be the same without technology to determine prices 
Insufficient flow of the information required for evaluation, and insufficient 
technology to cope with the information, have always been responsible for 
the fact that the same things often have the same price across all markets 
The management of reputation is far too inefficient today to be a useful 
aspect of a working economy Its semantics are poorly understood; more- 
over, it has nothing remotely akin to the technology that determines prices 
based on individual transactions in the monetary economy. 


T he common assumption that the net feels at home with free goods and 
vague trade because its population is averse to money altruistic, or slightly 
demented is wrong. It is becoming more obviously so as floods of "normal" 
people arrive from the world outside, and initiate themselves into the ways 
of the net. 

An economic model based on rational self-interest and the maximization of 
utility requires the identification of what is useful— sources of value— as 
well as a method of expressing economic interaction. In the cooking-pot 
market model, while scarcity creates value, value is subjective, and may 
therefore be found in any information at all that is distributed on the net. 
T he cooking-pot model provides a rational explanation (where a monetary 
incentive is lacking) for people's motivations to produce and trade in goods 
and services It suggests that people do not only— or even largely— produce 
in order to improve their reputation, but as a more-than-fair payment for 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 22 

other goods— "ideas"— that they receive from the cool<ing pot. T he cook- 
ing-pot marl<et is not a barter system, as it does not require individual trans- 
actions It is based on the assumption that on the net, you don't lose when 
you duplicate, so every contributor gets much more than a fair return in the 
form of combined contributions from others 

Reputations, unlike ideas, have no inherent value; like money they repre- 
sent things of value, as proxies. Reputations are crucial to seed the cooking 
pot and keep the fire lit, just as money is required to reduce the inefficien- 
cies of pure barter markets. H owever, reputations require a calculus and 
technology for efficient working, just as mon^ has its price-setting mecha- 
nisms today 

T he cooking-pot model shows the possibility of generating immense value 
through the continuous interaction of people at numbing speed, with an 
unprecedented flexibility and aptitude toward intangible, ambiguously 
defined goods and services. T he cooking-pot market already exists; it is an 
image of what the internet has already evolved into, calmly and almost sur- 
reptitiously over the past couple of decades 

T he cooking-pot model is perhaps one way to find a rationale for the work- 
ings of the internet— and on the net, it finds expression everywhere. 

[Edited by Felix Stalder.] 


DATE: TUE, 29 SEP 1998 00:24:43 -0700 

In late August, 1998, O'Reilly Publishing sponsored an Open Source 
Developer Day in downtown San Jose-emerald city as ghost town-in a 
hotel that conventions only partially fill. In a ballroom-conference room 
with a raised stage for speakers and a few hundred filled seats, the big fig- 
ures in open source came together to discuss the "movement." Eric 
R aymond was the keynote speaker. 

H is talk focused on the "enterprise market" and Linux. Linux, the phe- 
nomenon, has made recent notice in the economic press, as have several 
other free software projects. Raymond delivered an entertaining tour 
through some of the more recent achievements of Linux. But it was limit- 
ed to the entrance of Linux as a serious player in the corporate server and 
high-end markets It's an interesting story and one that can be measured 
somewhat. But the Linux phenomenon is much larger-a worldwide spread 
into PCs and even recycled 486s and 386s. This recycled market is of no 
financial significance in Silicon Valley at the moment but may prove to be 
of social and even economic significance globally 


There was little discussion by any of the participants of the larger social 
impact of free software; instead, discussions centered on business models 
and legal licensing issues The calm was, however, punctuated by Richard 
Stall man's declaration that John Ousterhout was a "parasite" on the free 
software movement. 0 usterhout was on the business models panel, describ- 
ing his company Scriptics's, planned support of the open source core of 
Tel, the language he nursed to adolescence, and their simultaneous planned 
development of proprietary closed tools for Tel as well as closed applica- 
tions During an open-mike period, Stallman said it was interesting to see 
IBM , a representative for which was on the panel, entering in to the free 
software community by supporting theA pache project whilejohn was plan- 
ning to make the fruits of the community into closed and in his view, harm- 
ful, proprietary products 

Some people clapped, others jeered. Without Stallman's provocation, the 
"conference" may have ended as a press conference rather than a town 
meeting for the free software community. Some of the more official atten- 
dees were said to be embarrassed by Stallman. M ost seemed baffled by the 
dissension and controversy. Many of the old-timers just groaned, "Oh, 
there goes Stallman again." Some were worried that the hackers would be 
bear the brunt in the press 

A week later a vice president from a software company thinking about going 
open source talked to me after he got a full report about the conference. 
"Stallman is a C ommunist," he said. "H e is not!" I laughed. "H e's not even 
a M arxist." T he closest Stallman ever came to talking about politics was to 
mention the U.S. Bill of Rights Software developers aren't known for artic- 
ulated or nuanced views of political economics; many aren't quite sure how 
to deal with subjects other than technical capacity or profits-let alone with 
the possibility that dissension and debate might be good. 
Stallman's very presence makes some in the free software communities 
uncomfortable, like a cousin that shows up at the wrong time, is too loud, 
and says the things no one dares to say Foremost amongst the traits that 
make the denizens of Silicon Valley uncomfortable is Stallman's contempt 
for the commercial. H e is indeed contemptuous of it, of profit for its own 
sake- especially when it's at the expense of the free circulation of ideas and 
software. This is what many executives, hip though they may be, find so 
unsettling about him: expressing his views in Silicon Valley is like declaring 
contempt for gambling in Las Vegas But his antics make perfect sense in 
the context and community of free software developers 
It strikes me as a mark of consistency and mental precision that he persists 
in his strict interpretation of free software H is legally technical discussions 
of the GNU General Public License are brilliant expositions of some call 
"viral" licenses- one that legally binds users to keep any modifications in the 
source code free and open to further modification. T he G PL has been very 
good to Linux: the GN U project spent considerable time and money craft- 
ing a clear and legally binding document, and it has served as a haven for 
many a free software developer. LinusTorvalds among them was spared the 
need to craft a license and set a precedent for the open and distributed 
development of his project. 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 24 

Stallman's GNU project has done incalculable good for free software. N o 
one in the communities denies it; but his tenacity makes many of them 
nervous And he doesn't mal<e the "suits" comfortable either-nor does he 
wantto. Hedoesn't carrya business card; hecarriesa "pleasure card," with 
his name and what appears to be a truncated personals ad, or a joke, "shar- 
ing good books, good food. ..tender embraces.. .unusual sense of humor." H e 
clearly isn't looking for a job or a deal. Friends perhapsor "community," but 
not a deal. He's not against others making a profit from free software, 
though; in fact, he encourages people to make profitable businesses and 
make substantive contributions to free software and free documentation. 
Like every other "hacker" at that conference I talked to, he is a pragmatic 
thinker. H e knows that no business would come near free software if it did 
not offer a successful business model for them. H e'sjust not willing to com- 
promise with those who try to combine open source with closed and pro- 
prietary software: if an open source project is cannibalized or "parasitized" 
by the development of closed products, he argues, it will hinder thefree flow 
of ideas and computing. 

John 0 usterhout's plans for Tel are just plans at the moment. H e's playing 
with the possibility of supporting the open source development of Tel while 
developing proprietary tools on top of it. H e acknowledges that there will 
be some tension between Scriptics's investors' demand for profits and the 
community's need for substantive free development of Tel. Veering too far 
in either direction will preclude contributions from the other: investment 
and connections or contributions and support. 

The tension between Ousterhoutand Stallman is representative of the con- 
flicting economies and social realities the free software communities face. 
While investors and capitalists struggle to understand just how free software 
has become so successful and how they can somehow profit from it, hackers 
and developers are trying to maintain the integrity of free and open source 
computing in the face of new attention and interest. 
M ainstream media interest in open source was piqued by the success of 
companies that serve and support the free software communities T he grow- 
ing user base is spending a lot of money on support, commercially sup- 
ported versions of free software products, and documentation. C ommercial 
Linux vendors are making significant revenues; C 2net's commercial, strong 
encryption version of Apache will earn the small company some US$15 
million dollars in revenue this year; O'Reilly Publishing will earn over 
US$30 million dollars on documentation of free software this year. These 
figures are, of course, dwarfed by the figuresthat proprietary software com- 
panies earn. Bill Gates, the emblematic persona of commercial software, 
has a personal fortune that exceeds the combined wealth of the entire bot- 
tom forty percent of the United States population; and Microsoft, the 
synecdoche of success in the software business, is the second wealthiest 
company in the world behind the mammoth General Electric. 
As large as M icrosoft looms, it would be a mistake to credit them with 
spurring the development of free software. Free software has it's own tra- 
jectory and its own history; both predate M icrosoft. Free software isn't a 


creature of necessity, it's a cliild of abundance-that is, of tlie free flow of 
ideas tlie academy and in liacl<er communities, amongst an elite of devel- 
opers and a fringe of hobbyists and enthusiasts T hese communities lie out- 
side the bonds of business as usual and official policy The fact that this 
abundance has reached a significant enough mass to support business mod- 
els has much less to do with presence of clay-footed proprietary monsters 
than with the superior and more engaging model that free software offers 
users and developers M icrosoft is, as Eric Raymond says, merely the most 
successful example of the closed, proprietary model of software develop- 
ment. But it is the model in general, not M icrosoft in particular, that open 
source and free software offer an alternative to. T his alternative isn't near- 
ly as profitable; it mal<es better software. Enough people have begun to rec- 
ognize this to present a threat to proprietary software wherever the two 
models compete. For now, it's hard to imagine anything that might threaten 
M icrosoft, except for something outside of its model. 
Recently, a number of companies have embraced open source software in 
various ways and to varying degrees Does this stem from a sense of abun- 
dance or is it an act of desperation? To those within the free software com- 
munities, the answer is obvious, the move to free software comes from an 
abundance. But, for many others, when a large commercial company 
decides to go open source (for example, Netscape) it's often seen as a des- 
perate act to shore up marl<etshare or mindshare while frosting the compe- 
tition's widgets T he rising stars of the free software communities- Cygnus 
Red H at Software, and so on- had the community before they developed a 
business model. It's much harder for a company to start with a business 
model and try to create a community-in no small part because the sense of 
abundance that marks free software communities is alien to company logic. 
Free software as both a specter and a possibility has forced companies to 
consider alternative business models For example, IBM 's bundling of the 
Apache webserver allows them to earn revenue from supporting the free 
product on their systems not from creating a closed product. IBM, of 
course, did not open the source code for any of its own proprietary prod- 
ucts It sought to leverage the community and the brand name of Apache, 
but it will, true to the model, contribute substantively to the open source. 
Some of the most visible internet companies rely entirely on free software; 
a good example is Yahoo, which runs on FreeBSD. 
Often, these companies use and sometimes even develop open source tech- 
nologies; but, they stop positioning themselves as technology enterprises per 
se. Richard Stallman pointed out quite a few years ago that the effects of 
free and open source computing are more social and educational than 
merely technological. I believe he meant that free and open source com- 
puting shifts emphasis from technology and focuses it on what the possibil- 
ities that computing and networking open up, the development of commu- 
nity and the education of people. Free software projects develop devoted 
communities that are explicitly extra-monetary and extra-institutional. 
0 nce-obscure theories about a gift economy first set forth in Essai sur leDon 
(1920) by the French anthropologist M arcel M auss, have become more than 
merely popular metaphors they now form some of the basic tenets of the 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 26 

free software movement. The extra-market and extra-institutional commu- 
nities of free software are novel social forms whose nearest analogy are the 
"phratries" that M auss describes: phratries are deep bonds developed with 
those outside of one's own family or clan; strangers become brothers 
through gift exchange.. A process that was fundamental to the theory of the 
gift economy and that is especially apt as an analogy for free software and 
the nets today is the potlatch, a term that describes the gift-giving cere- 
monies of the Northwest Coast Tribes of North America. The potlatch is a 
"system for the exchange of gifts," a "festival," and a very conspicuous form 
of public consumption. The potlatch is also the place of "being satiated": 
one feels rich enough to give up hoarding, to give away A potlatch cannot 
tal<e place without the sense that one is overrich. It does not emerge from 
an economics of scarcity. 

M arshall Sahlins's Stone Age Economics of 1972 is, more than a study of gift 
economics, a critique of the economics of scarcity Scarcity is the "judge- 
ment decreed by our economy" and the "axiom of our economics" 
Sahlins's and others' research has revealed that "subsistence" became a 
problem for humanity only with the rise of underprivileged classes within 
the developed markets of industrial and "postindustrial" cultures Poverty, 
is as Sahlins says, an invention of civilization, of urban development. The 
sentence to a "life of hard labor" is an artifact of industrialism. T he mere 
"subsistence scrabblers" of the past had— hour for hour, calorie for calo- 
rie— more "leisure" time that we can imagine: time for ceremony, time for 
play time to communicate freely 

Sahlins's presentation of "the original affluent society" should not be con- 
fused with the "long boom" recently popularized by W ired and other 
organizations, the specious celebration of some kind of information or net- 
work economy that will miraculously save us from scarcity and failure. His 
ethnographic descriptions of communal and environmental surplus and 
public consumption of surplus through gift-giving are a rebuke of the fail- 
ures of "progress" to deliver the goods, not a description of some infor- 
mation-age marvel. The gift-giving amongst an elite of programmers is an 
example of how collaborative and distributed projects can create wonder- 
ful results and forge strong ties within a networked economy; it certainly 
isn't an adequate representation of the successes of the information age as 
a whole It is an ideal; given its recent achievements, however, it seems rea- 
sonable to ask what further developments free software communities might 
achieve. And, in asking that, we might ask where the limits of open source 
logic presently lie 

At the developers' conference I opened with, Stallman pointed out an 
important limitation: we lack good open source documentation projects for 
free software This is crucial, because free software develops rapidly: it 
needs timely and well crafted documentation. Tim O'Reilly already copy- 
lefted a book on Linux, but didn't sell well. Perhapsit istime he tried again. 
The market is much bigger than it was even a few years ago. But, as 
O'Reilly points out, writers don't want to copyleft their books as much 
developers want to participate in free software projects The authors of 
these books and of traditional books, for the most part, are individuals and 


do not work collaboratively with networked groups of writers to produce a 
text. Perliaps some may be inspired, as many indeed are, to experiment, as 
O'Reilly said he may be willing to. "Let him experiment!," Stallman 
intoned after the conference. 

T he phenomenon of free software is probably bigger than anyone of us real- 
izes We can't really measure it because all the ways of tracking these kind of 
phenomena are economic, and the "small footprint" operating systems, 
Linux and FreeBSD, are flowing through much more numerous and difficult 
to track lines, lines through which move people just like the ones the who 
built them. There are a few hints In August, broke the record 
for the largest FT P download of software for a single day surpassing the pre- 
vious record which had been set by M icrosoftfor one of its Windows releas- 
es All of's software is free and open source reports 
that much of the download is to points outside of the U nited States and the 
E.U.— to areas where, industry wisdom tells us, intellectual property laws 
aren't respected. What happens when software pirates become users who 
avidly even desperately want to learn, to receive, and even to give? 
What will be the social and economic effects of free and open source com- 
puting? Do the successful collaborative free software projects prefigure 
other kinds of collaborative projects? Will the hau, the gift spirit of free soft- 
ware spread into other areas of social and intellectual life? I hope so. There 
is a connection between the explosion in the use of networked computing 
and the recent rise to prominence of free software. A nd this connection may 
foretell new forms of community and free collaboration on scales previous- 
ly unimagined, but it certainly won't happen by itself. It will take the con- 
certed efforts of many individual wills and the questioning of many 
assumptions about the success and quality of the collaborative, the open, 
and the freely given. 

[Edited by Ted Byfield.] 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 28 


DATE: WED, 2 SEP 1998 21:16:51 +0100 

Backspace (< >) is a center for a wide range of 
digital cultures in London. It has been central to developing net radio- and 
network-based art in the U.K . In fact, the amount of such work available 
through the Backspace domain far exceeds that available through the top- 
heavy institutions supposedly charged with developing this work. Why this 
might be, and how Backspace sits in relationship to different forms of cir- 
culation of material, mutual aid and cash is the focus of this interview with 
one of the founders, James Stevens. 

M F> People who are new to the space never seem quite sure if Backspace 
is a squat, lounge area for multimedia industry casualties, gallery cybercafe 
or private club. It's probably all of these except the first. H ow was it imag- 
ined when the place first opened— and how does it run now? 
JS> To start with there was a loose group who met in London between sum- 
mer '94 and '95, made up of those interested in the rise of the internet, net- 
working and tech art. During this time H eath Bunting and I met on sever- 
al occasions and talked about access/ workshop spaces, "," and 
soon, and how to do it. Over this time I met Jon Bains and later via ID MA 
K im Bull. 0 bsolete was an attempt at working with the web which began 
in summer of '95, to develop new platforms for creative work, establish a 
server onto which we could present our efforts and those of our mates and 
earn enough money to live on (for a change). T his worked very well except 
the gush of cash from our more corporate clients became a major distrac- 
tion and point of distortion. 

0 ur open studio became temporary family home to the growing group of 
artists coders and writers working on Obsolete projects, many of whom 
slept, ate, lived and worked in the space. In addition, our widening circle of 
friends and interested groups visited us more and more. This expanding use 
began to collide with the growing client requirements to deliver work and 
present ourselves 

A new space was found in the wharf to accommodate somehow some of 
these needs and to instate our wish share an access point of presence. It was 
left to me to follow this through so in M arch '96 we opened very quietly to 
engage first users We adopted a quarterly subscription system. Anyone 
could join, use our equipment and make noncommercial stuff to present on 
our servers Each member got several hours free with the subscription (£ 10) 
then paid £4 an hour therapeutic. This failed to raise enough supporting 
cash but did present an alternative to the mainstream cybercafe commerce. 
This loose arrangement continued until M arch of '97 when it was clear 
0 bsolete should cease and Backspace would have to fend for itself. 


In the first year over four hundred people took email addresses and used the 

space, we held website launches, group meetings, film screenings, events, 
and miniconferences Some users held their own training sessions and, of 
course, there were many boozy late nights. 

From April '97 Backspace has moved most of the way over into self suffi- 
ciency and the 80 or so subscribers each month cover the very basic costs 
We have made adjustments to the fee to bring it closer to the line and it has 
settled at £20 per month. We now have six or seven people hosting two 
four-hour sessions a month each in exchange for reasonable expenses (£ 10). 
For thisth^ must look after the space and support subscription and help 
maintain, contribute and develop at whatever level they can. We are closed 
on M onday to allow for repair, relaxation and reflection, though it is very 
often as busy as the week. 

M F> Describe Backspace. It maintains quite an unusual presence in the 
area of London that it is in, a smallish tech-cluttered room hugging close to 
the river in an area that has been increasingly dominated by business, and 
also internally— it certainly doesn't fit the archetypal layout of a cybercafe. 
Inside the building, how do all the elements (computers, kettle, music, seats, 
people) work together? Does it fit into any real or imaginary network of 
related spaces? 

JS> Being on the river herehasan effect on everyone in the building not just 
in backspace, and that euphoria permeates all the interaction that occurs 
C ertainly part of any great environment is the sense of space that is extrud- 
ed in its presentation and use. We have always tried to make the best of the 
qualitiesof the room, acknowledging its inadequacies and buildingon a rela- 
tionship with the location, history future, and so on. 
T he question of business encroachment has become part of the mantra for 
me of late. I just have to keep reinstating my commitment to resistance of 
commercial or cultural co-option and out of the fug at 0 bsolete it seems 
more and more appropriate I do this We are sidestepping the interruption 
of corporate concerns— I will not now work on anything other than suffi- 
ciency enriching projects (that is, no Levis or National Gallery no British 
N uclear Fuels or whatever their name is now...). We are not participating in 
the Lottery scrummage for contrivance and ineffective capitalization, rather 
edging into the areas around us and finding the energy we need to prevail. 
T hat is not to say we will not take support cash when it is appropriate; we 
have received two modest payments from the Arts Council for specifically 
short project periods 

I ndividuals who subscribe have found to their delight that an application for 
funding to any of the public funding bodies receives serious attention and is 
considered a reasonable prospect for award when associated with the space 
When possible we will support these projects as equally as we support any 
other initiated from within the membership. There is little pretension to 
celebrity from within the group and this is refreshed/ refocused by the flow of 
enthusiasm, contribution and contact we have with those who come and use 
the space. T hese characteristics are reflected in the platform for presentation 
at and associated sites, it is a churning wash of ideas experiments 
and effluent, a nonhierarchical representation of the collective state of mind. 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 30 

T he use of the space is a meandering and confounding collision of the inar- 
ticulate, lucid and languid to the strains of rap and riverwash and no soon- 
er have we settled the arrangement of the facilities and utilities around the 
room then we are upturned and overdriven. I love it. 
M F> In terms of funding, Bacl<space itself occupies an interesting position. 
Can you describe your attitude to state funding and corporate sponsorship? 
JS> All these models hug a formula for creativity and worl< practice that 
reinforces dependency Whilst any genuine declaration and provision of cash 
in support of noncommercial product (that is, not a commercial) can be 
applauded, however it at this point the inevitabledistortion occurs, the medi- 
ation, whatever... 

I am now more adamant than ever that bacl<space exist free of any depend- 
encies on public or corporate funding and that it flowers or fails on its own 
abilities We are not employers, teachers or fundamentalists nor are we a web 
design agency or recording studio, we are not experts, we are chaotic and 
persistent, slacktivist. 

T here have been many opportunities over the last year for me to get very 
involved with Arts Council funding in particular. I have spent time talking 
with funding administrators to see if there is an economic way of dealing 
with them. Again and again I run into fundamental problems of perception 
and projection. 0 n the face of it I think we satisfy most criteria and are in 
an attractive proposition for them to associate with, yet I cannot bring myself 
to sort it all out with them. M aybe I need help.. .or to just look outward and 
pass them. 

So far the absence of a fund has not prevented project work from proceeding. 
If you build and present with components of an appropriate scale then 
bankrolling and other control issues recede to the background where th^ 
belong I am always looking to ways of consolidating the flow of supporting 
cash and to this end have recently extended subscription to include ISP for an 
extra £ 5. 1 still get confronted by those who insist all this should be free and 
are offended by our model of openness and despair at our noncompliance. 
T here is no map or set of instructions that can be extracted and replicated. 
Each situation responds best to a custom set of attunements. 

There is still the option of disap- 
pearance and the art of regrouping 
and reappearance. If things get 
boring, lose their magic, get stuck, 
it is simply time to move on, close 
certain operations and perhaps 
transform them, turn them into 
something new, something yet 
unknown. This is an old trick, an old 
wisdom if you wish. It has little to 
do with a weak will— remember that 
infrastructures are not that easy to 
rebuild. Years of work may be 
demolished within weeks. Social 
and human structures can be dis- 
solved that are hard to replace, or 
to repair Organizations are collec- 
tive memories and one must have a 
very good reason to destroy one. 
Most of all, one must possess the 
energy to create something new, 
othenA/ise one will stand there with 
empty hands, facing a long path of 
melancholy ahead. [Geert Lovink 
<>. Strategies for 
Sustainable Autonomous Cyber- 
spaces, September 1998] 



DATE: TUE, 20 OCT 1998 00:35:01 +0100 


The net is haunted by the disappointed hopes of the sixties Because this new 
technology symbolizes another period of rapid change, many contemporary 
commentators look back to the stalled revolution of thirty years ago to 
explain what is happening now. M ost famously, the editors of W ired contin- 
ually pay homage to the New Left values of individual freedom and cultur- 
al dissent in their coverage of the net. However, in their Californian ideolo- 
gy these ideals of their youth are now going to be realized through techno- 
logical determinism and free markets The politics of ecstasy have been 
replaced by the economics of greed. 

Ironically the New Left emerged in response to the "sellout" of an earlier 
generation. By the end of the fifties, the heroes of the antifascist struggle had 
become the guardians of Cold War orthodoxies Even within the arts, avant- 
garde experimentation had been transformed into fashionable styles of con- 
sumer society T he adoption of innovative styles and new techniques was no 
longer subversive. Frustrated with the recuperation of their parents' genera- 
tion, young people started looking for new methods of cultural and social 
activism. Above all, the Situationists proclaimed that the epoch of the polit- 
ical vanguard and the artistic avant-garde had passed. Instead of following 
the intellectual elite, everyone should instead determine their own destinies 

"The situation is. ..made to be lived by its constructors. The role played by a pas- 
sive. ..'public' must constantly diminish, while that played by those who cannot 
be called actors but rather... 'livers' must steadily increase." — G. Debord, 
"Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist 
Tendency's Conditions of Organisation and Action" 

These New Left activists wanted to create opportunities for everyone to 
express their own hopes dreams and desires T he H egelian "grand narrative" 
would culminate in the supersession of all mediations separating people from 
each other. Yet, despite their H egelian modernism, the Situationists believed 
that the Utopian future had been prefigured in the tribal past. For example, 
tribes in Polynesia organized themselves around the potlatch: the circulation 
of gifts Within these societies this gift economy bound people together into 
tribes and encouraged cooperation between different tribes In contrast with 
the atomization and alienation of bourgeois society potlatches required inti- 
mate contacts and emotional authenticity. According to the Situationists, the 
tribal gift economy demonstrated that individuals could successfully live 
together without needing either the state or the market. After the New Left 
revolution, people would recreate this idyllic condition: anarcho-communism. 
H owever, the Situationists could not escape from the elitist tradition of the 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 32 

avant-garde. Despite their invocation of Hegel and Marx, tlie Situationists 
remained liaunted by Nietzsclieand Lenin. As in earlier generations the rhet- 
oric of mass participation simultaneously justified the leadership of the intel- 
lectual elite. Anarcho-communism was therefore transformed into the "mark 
of distinction" for the New Left vanguard. As a consequence, the giving of 
gifts was seen as the absolute antithesis of market competition. T here could 
be no compromise between tribal authenticity and bourgeois alienation. After 
the social revolution, the potlatch would completely supplant the commodity 
In the two decades following the M ay '68 revolution, this purist vision of 
anarcho-communism inspired community media activists For instance, the 
radical "free radio" stations created by New Left militants in France and 
Italy refused all funding from state and commercial sources Instead, these 
projects tried to survive on donations of time and money from their sup- 
porters Emancipatory media supposedly could only be produced within the 
gift economy D uring the late seventies, pro-situ attitudes were further popu- 
larized by the punk movement. Although rapidly commercialized, this sub- 
culture did encourage its members to form their own bands, make their own 
fashions, and publish their own fanzines T his participatory ethic still shapes 
innovatory music and radical politics today From raves to environmental 
protests, the spirit of M ay '68 lives on within the DIY — do it yourself— cul- 
ture of the nineties T he gift is supposedly about to replace the commodity 


Despite originally being invented for the U.S. military the net was con- 
structed around the gift economy The Pentagon initially did try to restrict 
the unofficial uses of its computer network. H owever, it soon became obvi- 
ous that the net could only be successfully developed by letting its users build 
the system for themselves Within the scientific community the gift economy 
has long been the primary method of socializing labor. Funded by the state 
or by donations, scientists don't have to turn their intellectual work directly 
into marketable commodities Instead, research results are publicized by 
"giving a paper" at specialist conferences and by "contributing an article" to 
professional journals The collaboration of many different academics is 
made possible through the free distribution of information. 
Within small tribal societies, the circulation of gifts established close person- 
al bonds between people. I n contrast, the academic gift economy is used by 
intellectuals who are spread across the world. Despite the anonymity of the 
modern version of the gift economy academics acquire intellectual respect 
from each other through citations in articles and other forms of public 
acknowledgment. Scientists therefore can only obtain personal recognition 
for their individual efforts by openly collaborating with each other through 
the academic gift economy Although research is being increasingly com- 
mercialized, the giving away of findings remains the most efficient method 
of solving common problems within a particular scientific discipline. 
From its earliest days, the free exchange of information has therefore been 
firmly embedded within the technologies and social mores of cyberspace. 
When New Left militants proclaimed that "information wants to be free" 
back in the sixties, they were preaching to computer scientists who were 


already living within the academic gift economy. Above all, the founders of 
the net never bothered to protect intellectual property within computer- 
mediated communications 0 n the contrary they were developing these new 
technologies to advance their careers inside the academic gift economy Far 
from wanting to enforce copyright, the pioneers of the net tried to eliminate 
all barriers to the distribution of scientific research. Technically every act 
within cyberspace involves copying material from one computer to another. 
0 nee the first copy of a piece of information is placed on the net, the cost 
of making each extra copy is almost zero. The architecture of the system 
presupposes that multiple copies of documents can easily be cached around 
the networl<. As Tim Berners-Lee— the inventor of the web— points out: 
"Concepts of intellectual property, central to our culture, are not expressed 
in a way which maps onto the abstract information space. In an information 
space, we can consider the authorship of materials, and their perception; 
but.. .there is a need for the underlying infrastructure to be able to make 
copies simply for reasons of [technical] efficiency and reliability. The con- 
cept of 'copyright' as expressed in terms of copies made makes little sense" 
("T he World Wide Web: Past, Present and Future"). 
Within the commercial creative industries, advances in digital reproduction 
are feared for making the "piracy" of copyright material ever easier. For the 
owners of intellectual property, the net can only make the situation worse. I n 
contrast, the academic gift economy welcomes technologies that improve the 
availability of data. Users should always be able to obtain and manipulate 
information with the minimum of impediments The design of the net there- 
fore assumes that intellectual property istechnically and socially obsolete. 
In France, the nationalized telephone monopoly has accustomed people to 
paying for the online services provided by Minitel. In contrast, the net 
remains predominantly a gift economy even though the system has expand- 
ed far beyond the university. From scientists through hobbyists to the gener- 
al public, the charmed circle of users was slowly built up through the adhe- 
sion of many localized networks to an agreed set of protocols Crucially the 
common standards of the net include social conventions as well as technical 
rules The giving and receiving of information without payment is almost 
never questioned. Although the circulation of gifts doesn't necessarily create 
emotional obligations between individuals, people are still willing to donate 
their information to everyone else on the net. Even selfish reasons encourage 
people to become anarcho-communists within cyberspace. By adding their 
own presence, every user contributes to the collective knowledge accessible 
to those already online. In return, each individual has potential access to all 
the information made available by others within the net. Everyone takes far 
more out of the net than they can ever give away as an individual. 

|T]he net is far from altruistic, or it wouldn't work... Because it takes as much 
effort to distribute one copy of an original creation as a million. never lose 
from letting your product free. long as you are compensated in return... What 
a miracle, then, that you receive not one thing in value in exchange— indeed 
there is no explicit act of exchange at all— but millions of unique goods made by 
others!" — Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, "Cooking-pot Markets" 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 34 

Despite the commercialization of cyberspace, tlie self-interest of net users 
ensures that the high-tech gift economy continues to flourish. For instance, 
musicians are using the net for the digital distribution of their recordings to 
each other. By giving away their own work to this network community, indi- 
viduals get free access to a far larger amount of music in return. Not sur- 
prisingly the music business is worried about the increased opportunities for 
the "piracy" of copyrighted recordings over the net. Sampling, DJing, and 
mixing are already blurring property rights within dance music. However, 
the greatest threat to the commercial music corporations comes from the 
flexibility and spontaneity of the high-tech gift economy After it is complet- 
ed, a new track can quickly be made freely available to a global audience I f 
someone likes the tune, they can download it for personal listening, use it as 
a sample, or make their own remix. 0 ut of the free circulation of informa- 
tion, musicians can form friendships, work together, and inspire each other. 

"It's all about doing It for yourself. Better than punk." —Steve Elliot 

Within the developed world, most politicians and corporate leaders believe 
that the future of capitalism lies in the commodification of information. 
Over the last few decades, intellectual property rights have been steadily 
tightened through new national laws and international agreements Even 
human genetic material can now be patented. Yet, at the "cutting edge" of 
the emerging information society, money-commodity relations play a sec- 
ondary role to those created by a really existing form of anarcho-commu- 
nism. For most of its users, the net is somewhere to work, play love, learn, 
and discuss with other people Unrestricted by physical distance, they col- 
laborate with each other without the direct mediation of money or politics 
Unconcerned about copyright, they give and receive information without 
thought of payment. In the absence of states or markets to mediate social 
bonds, network communities are instead formed through the mutual obliga- 
tions created by gifts of time and ideas 

"This informal, unwritten social contract is supported by a blend of strong-tie and 
weak-tie relationships among people who have a mixture of motives and 
ephemeral affiliations. It requires one to give something, and enables one to 
receive something. ...I find that the help I receive far outweighs the energy I 
expend helping others; a marriage of altruism and self-interest." —Howard 
Rheingold, The Virtual Community 

On the net, enforcing copyright payments represents the imposition of 
scarcity on a technical system designed to maximize the dissemination of 
information. The protection of intellectual property stops all users from hav- 
ing access to every source of knowledge. Commercial secrecy prevents peo- 
ple from helping each other to solve common problems The inflexibility of 
information commodities inhibits the efficient manipulation of digital data. 
I n contrast, the technical and social structure of the net has been developed 
to encourage open cooperation among its participants As an everyday activ- 
ity users are building the system together. Engaged in "interactive creativi- 


ty," they send emails, take part in listservers, contribute to newsgroups, par- 
ticipate in online conferences, and produce websites (T. Berners-Lee, 
"Realising the Full Potential of the Web" <http:// / 1998/ 02/ 
Potential. html>). Lacking copyright protection, information can be freely 
adapted to suit the users' needs Within the high-tech gift economy people 
successfully work together through "an open social process involving evalua- 
tion, comparison, and collaboration" (B. Lang, "Free Software For All," Le 
Monde Diplomatique, January 1998 < 
md/ en/ 1998/ 01/ 12freesoft.html >). 

T he high-tech gift economy is even at the forefront of software development. 
For instance. Bill Gates admits that M icrosoft's biggest competitor in the pro- 
vision of webservers comes from the Apache program (K. W. Porterfield, 
"Information Wants to be Valuable" < articles^ 
freesoft.html>). Instead of being marketed by a commercial company this 
program is distributed for free. Like similar projects, this virtual machine is 
continually being developed by its techie users Because its source code is 
protected though not frozen by copyright (under the GNU Public License), 
the program can be modified, amended, and improved by anyone with the 
appropriate programming ski lis When someone does make a contribution to 
a free or "open source" project, the gift of their labor is rewarded by recog- 
nition within the community of user-developers 
T he inflexibility of commodified software programs is compounded by their 
greater unreliability Even M icrosoft can't mobilize the amount of labor 
given to some successful shareware programs by their devotees. Without 
enough techies looking at a program, all its bugs can never be found (A. 
Leonard, "Let My Software Go!" < 
21st/ feature/ 1998/ 04/ cov_14feature.html>). The greater social and tech- 
nical efficiency of anarcho-communism is therefore inhibiting the commer- 
cial takeover of the net. Shareware programs are now beginning to threaten 
the core product of the M icrosoft empire: the Windows operating system. 
Starting from the original software program by LinusTorvalds, a communi- 
ty of user-developers is together building their own nonproprietary operat- 
ing system: Linux. For the first time, Windows has a serious competitor. 
Anarcho-communism is now the only alternative to the dominance of 
monopoly capitalism. 

Linux is subversive. Who could have thought even five years ago that a worid- 
class operating system could coalesce as if by magic out of part-time haci<ing 
by several thousand developers scattered ail over the planet, connected oniy by 
the tenuous strands of the Internet? — Eric S. Raymond, 'The Cathedral and the 


Following the implosion of the Soviet U nion, almost nobody still believes in 
the inevitable victory of communism. On the contrary large numbers of 
people accept that the Hegelian "end of history" has culminated in 
American neoliberal capitalism. Yet, at exactly this moment in time, a really 
existing form of anarcho-communism is being constructed within the net, 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 36 

especially by people living in the U.S. When they go online, almost everyone 
spends most of their time participating within the gift economy rather than 
engaging in marl<et competition. Because users receive much more informa- 
tion than they can ever give away there is no popular clamor for imposing 
the equal exchange of the marketplace on the net. 0 nee again, the "end of 
history" for capitalism appears to be communism. 
For the high-tech gift economy was not an immanent possibility in every age. 
0 n the contrary the marl<et and the state could only be surpassed in thisspe- 
cific sector at this particular historical moment. Crucially people need 
sophisticated media, computing, and telecommunications technologies to 
participate within the high-tech gift economy A manually operated press 
produced copies that were relatively expensive, limited in numbers and 
impossible to alter without recopying. After generations of technological 
improvements, the same quantity of text on the net costs almost nothing to 
circulate, can be copied as needed, and can be remixed at will. I n addition, 
individuals need both time and money to participate within the high-tech gift 
economy While a large number of the world's population still lives in pover- 
ty, people within the industrialized countries have steadily reduced their 
hours of employment and increased their wealth over a long period of social 
struggles and economic reorganizations By worl<ing for mon^ during some 
of theweel<, people can now enjoy the delights of giving gifts at other times 
0 nly at this particular historical moment have the technical and social con- 
ditions of the metropolitan countries developed sufficiently for the emer- 
gence of digital anarcho-communism. 

"Capital thus works towards its own dissolution as the form dominating produc- 
tion." — Karl iviarx, Grundrisse 

The New Left anticipated the emergence of the high-tech gift economy 
People could collaborate with each other without needing either markets or 
states H owever, theN ew Left had a purist vision of DIY culture: the gift was 
the absolute antithesis of the commodity Yet, anarcho-communism only 
exists in a compromised form on the net. Contrary to the ethical-aesthetic 
vision of the New Left, money-commodity and gift relations are not just in 
conflict with each other, but also coexist in symbiosis 0 n the one hand, each 
method of working does threaten to supplant the other. The high-tech gift 
economy heralds the end of private property in "cutting edge" areas of the 
economy The digital capitalists want to privatize the shareware programs 
and enclose the social spaces built through voluntary effort. The potlatch 
and the commodity remain irreconcilable. 

Yet, on the other hand, the gift economy and the commercial sector can only 
expand through mutual collaboration within cyberspace The free circula- 
tion of information between users relies upon the capitalist production of 
computers software, and telecommunications The profits of commercial 
net companies depend upon increasing numbers of people participating 
within the high-tech gift economy For instance, from its foundation Netscape 
has tried to realize the opportunities opened up by such interdependence. 
U nder threat from the M icrosoft monopoly the company had to ally itself 


with the hacker community to avoid being overwhelmed. It started by dis- 
tributing its web browser as a gift. Today the source code of this program is 
freely available and the development of products for Linux has become a top 
priority. The commercial survival of Netscape depends upon successfully 
collaborating with hackers from the high-tech gift economy Anarcho-com- 
munism is now sponsored by corporate capital— for example, as when 
N etscape released the source code to its browser. 

'"Hi there Mr CEO [Chief Executive Officer]— tell me, do you have any strategic 
problem right now that is bigger than whether M icrosoft is going to either cmsh 
you or own your soul in a few years? No? You don't? OK, well, listen carefully 
then. You cannot survive against Bill Gates [by] playing Bill Gates' game. To 
thrive, or even survive, you're going to have to change the rules...'" — Eric S. 

The purity of the digital DIY culture is also compromised by the political 
system. T he state isn't just the potential censor and regulator of the net. At 
the same time, the public sector provides essential support for the high-tech 
gift economy In the past, the founders of the net never bothered to incor- 
porate intellectual property within the system because their wages were 
funded from taxation. In the future, governments will have to impose uni- 
versal service provisions on commercial telecommunications companies if all 
sections of society are to have the opportunity to circulate free information. 
Furthermore, when access is available, many people use the net for political 
purposes including lobbying their political representatives Within the digi- 
tal mixed economy anarcho-communism is also symbiotic with the state 
This miscegenation occurs almost everywhere within cyberspace For 
instance, an online conference site can be constructed as a labor of love, but 
still be partially funded by advertising and public mon^. Crucially this 
hybridization of working methods is not confined within particular projects 
When they're online, people constantly pass from one form of social activi- 
ty to another. For instance, in one session, a net user could first purchase 
some clothes from an e-commerce catalogue, then look for information 
about education services from the local council's site, and then contribute 
some thoughts to an ongoing discussion on a listserver for fiction writers 
Without even consciously having to think about it, this person would have 
successively been a consumer in a market, a citizen of a state, and an anar- 
cho-communist within a gift economy Far from realizing theory in its full 
purity working methods on the net are inevitably compromised. T he "N ew 
Economy" is in the lexicon of W ired and its ilk, an advanced form of social 
democracy (see K. Kelly "New Rules for the New Economy" Wired, 
September 1997). 

At the end of the twentieth century anarcho-communism is no longer con- 
fined to avant-garde intellectuals What was once revolutionary has now 
become banal. As net access grows, more and more ordinary people are cir- 
culating free information across the net. Crucially their potlatches are not 
attempts to regain a lost emotional authenticity. Far from having any belief 
in the revolutionary ideals of M ay '68, the overwhelming majority of people 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 38 

participate witliin tiie high-tecli gift economy for entirely pragmatic reasons 
Sometimes tiiey buy commodities online and access state-funded services 
H owever, they usually prefer to circulate gifts amongst each other N et users 
will always obtain much more than will ever be contributed in return. By giv- 
ing away something which iswell made, they will gain recognition from those 
who download their work. For most people, the gift economy is simply the 
best method of collaborating together in cyberspace. Within the mixed 
economy of the net, anarcho-communism has become an everyday reality. 

"We must rediscover the pleasure of giving: giving because you have so much. 
What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see— whether it 
likes it or not!— when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the 
pure gift." — Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life 

[This article isa remixed extract from T heH oly Fools: A Critique of theAvant- 
gardein theAgeof theNet (London: Verso, forthcoming).] 


DATE: TUE, 20 OCT 1998 22:30:51 + 0100 

From: "Armin M edosch" <> 
Date: Tue, 3 M ar 1998 10:47:04 +0000 
Subject: Leading Art Site Suspended 

Leading Art Site Suspended 
By Matthew Mirapaul 

The Ada'web Web site, one of the most dynamic destinations for original Web- 
based art, Is being suspended. 

Benjamin Well, the co-founder of Ada'web, announced on Monday In an e-mail 
message that Digital City Inc., the site's publisher, had canceled Its financing and 
that Ada'web would cease producing new artistic content Well Is now seeking a 
permanent home for Its archives so that Its material can remain accessible. 
Since It was conceived in late 1994, Ada'web has become one of the premier 
destinations for online creativity. Ultimately, It presented about 15 web-specifIc 
projects by such high-profile contributors as the conceptual artist Lawrence 
Weiner. The site's first offering, launched officially In May 1995, was Jenny 
Holzer's "Please Change Beliefs." 


Date: Tue, 3 M ar 1998 16:08:54 -0500 
From: (M ediaFilter) 
Subject: Re: Leading Art Site Suspended 

G uess it tal<es a cruel dose of reality before people get a clue that autonomy 
is necessity, corporate sponsorship is ultimately censorship, and subsidies 
from the government are short lived at best. 

Don't be surprised! T here is no free lunch. Everything has its price. 

Paul Garrin 

Date: Wed, 4 M ar 1998 11:45:56 -0500 
From: (Benjamin Weil) 
Subject: Re: Leading Art Site Suspended 

T his kind of commentary astounds me in that it demonstrates a remarl<ably 
simplistic approach to the economy of the arts and culture in general. It 
reminds me of those people who keep on saying that artists have to starve in 
order to produce good work. It is at best romantic, at worst idiotic. 

Art has always been supported by wealth, may it be individual patrons, cor- 
porations or the state (in modern times). T here is no doubt that there is a 
price to pay that there is no "free lunch." N obody— except maybe roman- 
tics or idiots— ever assumed that receiving funding from any corpus was 
"free of charge." 0 Id masters, as we refer to them, had to service the greed 
and power of individuals or families, and it did not prevent them from being 
"free." T heir freedom was defined by the constraints they had to accept in 
order to make their work. The notion of the artist having "no obligation" to 
anyone except to her/ his art is something that only pushes this area of cul- 
ture in a very marginal position. Any transaction implies the agreement 
between both parties that there is something in it for each. T he fact Digital 
City Inc. has decided to stop supporting Ada'web only proves that this cor- 
porate entity does not see its interest in supporting such venture any longer. 
But being able to state that "corporate sponsorship is ultimately censorship" 
basically ignores the nature of any transaction. 

Public space on the net will only disappear if we decide so. just like the 
notion of public space in the city disappears if it is not occupied. It is a deci- 
sion, not an occurrence. 

M ore constructive and interesting as a departure point is the nature of the 
relationship between art and its potential sponsors, so as to eventually come 
up with means to convince the holders of wealth that th^ have an interest 
in supporting activities that are not "profitable" in a purely capitalistic 
understanding of the term. So far, most of that support was informed by a 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 40 

valuation of culture that relied upon the notion of prestige, or status. T here 
must be other ways, more creative ones, to approach the possibility of estab- 
lishing satisfactory relationships with corporate patrons H owever, this l<ind 
of thinking can only be discussed with the postulate that the corporate world 
is no worse than the state, who in turn is no worse than the private individ- 
ual. Again, the nature of such a relationship cannot be envisioned outside of 
the notion of mutual interest. 

0 n a final note, I also have to say that the whole notion of a disinterested 
state that is so much better than the corporate world, in that it supposedly 
does not have any agenda is again one of the most worn out and preposter- 
ous statements that can be made at this point. Wakeup and smell the coffee: 
it's the nineties, not the sixties! 

Date: Wed, 4 M ar 1998 19:36:57 -0400 
From: murph the surf <> 
Subject: Re: Leading Art Site Suspended 

In the long run I don't know if Ada'web would have found a place within 
Digital City because it would have taken time to figure out how to do it with 
concessions made on both sides M eaning and value in art accrue over time 
and I think the kind of continuity required for art can benefit a business that 
is constantly responding to the market flux. It takes insightful leadership to 
understand and implement this effectively, something AO L doesn't seem to 
have much of, or need to be successful. 

Since we started in 1993 as a BBS, Artnetweb has evolved into a network of 
people, projects and things without anything resembling a business plan and 
it would be ridiculous for us to think we would fit into a corporate structure 
without a corporate sensibility. 0 ur network exists as it is used and when the 
network stops being used it will no longer exist. 

As an organization we receive no grants or other institutional support. We 
keep ourselves alive by teaching classes, by doing freelance web design and 
upkeep plus whatever else comes along with a paycheck. We also work on 
VRML projects for various exhibitions and exhibition sites 

This situation isn't what we planned in the beginning because we had no 
idea what the future would be, and it certainly isn't perfect. We've changed 
and adapted; obviously no great patron is waiting to take us under their pro- 
tective wing, yet we have discovered some possibilities for working with cor- 
porations and others that may prove beneficial for everyone involved. 
Sounds a lot like real life. 

Rnhhin M urphy 


Date: Sat, 07 M ar 1998 14:30:52 -0500 

From: Stephen Pusey <scp@plexusorg> 
Subject: Funding Digital Culture 

I'm both intrigued and irritated by this Ada'web saga. Intrigued because it 
highlights a need for discussion about funding online arts entities and the pros 
and cons of their formulas for survival. Irritated, because of the fuss con- 
cerning Ada'web's decision simply to stop just because their one source of 
monetary nourishment terminated— to quote Benjamin Weil "...they said 
'We don't have any more money to fund this,' and then it was our decision, 
more or less, to stop. You l<now, how could we do it without money?" 
Obviously sucking on that one corporate teat for the last three years produced 
a mindset that cannot tolerate an existence without its regular dolcelatte 

At the end of '94 and beginning of '95 a number of arts websites appeared 
among them The Thing, PLEXUS, artnetweb, Ada'web, and others The 
principals of these organizations had prior acquaintance from dialogue on 
pre-web dial-up BBSes like The Thing. There was, however, a fundamental 
difference between Ada'web and the rest. T hey were a wholly owned part of 
a parent corporation— one of the cherries on the cake of John Borthwick's 
start-up, WPStudios, an ambitious conglomerate of online publications The 
rest of us were "independents" that had little or no corporate or state fund- 
ing, and therefore had to constantly devise new ways of paying the bills and 
keeping the marshals from closing our offices, while at the same time build- 
ing online environments to promote discourse and digital culture. I am not 
declaring financial poverty to be a virtue here, just that hardship has been a 
factor that has necessitated a diverse approach to survival, albeit a slower 
and perhaps erratic development. 

Ada'web enjoyed three good years supplied with office, equipment, and 
wages, which has enabled them to concentrate single-mindedly on produc- 
ing and promoting a beautiful and extraordinary arts environment. Weil and 
his crew surely must have suspected from the outset that this would be a 
short-term venture. Borthwick is a pragmatist who knows that pigs get 
slaughtered in the market. H e put together an attractive hip package and 
sold it before he lost his investment. Inevitably AOL's Digital City got out 
their calculators and realized that some pieces of what they bought were not 
going to spin a penny and so ditched Total N ew York, Spanker and Ada'web: 
a predictable outcome. 

M y purpose here is not to put the boot in when the man is down; Ada'web 
has made an important contribution and I sincerely hope that Benjamin 
Weil finds a new way of continuing its mission. T here are, however, lessons 
we can draw from their dilemma. 0 bviously the first is to avoid corporate 
ownership, unless you control the corporation. In seeking corporate spon- 
sorship, success lies in identifying to the donor the ways in which your pur- 
pose and their strategy are mutually aligned. T his may cause you, especially 
if the potential financial rewards are really high, to reform your philosophy 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 42 

to match theirs. T he same is also true of state sponsors, who may be tem- 
pered by political pressuresthatprohibitthem from sponsoring certain l<inds 
of expression, like sexually explicit material. Finding the right sponsorship, 
indeed any sponsorship, can be a full-time activity. If an organization wants 
to avoid compromising its charter it has to draw from a broad portfolio of 
funders T he other solution is to evolve a business model that supports the 
organization's agenda without outside interference. I assume The Thing 
does this with some modicum of success, by using the profits from its ISP. 
Another option that could prove effective in the long term is collective 
action. Perhaps an organization lil<e the Foundation for Digital Culture 
(< >), reformed with an international constituency, could 
be an organ through which we collectively lobby and inform government 
and corporate funders to support progressive digital culture? 

Date: Sun, 8 M ar 1998 14:52:19 -0500 
From: t byfield <> 
Subject: Re: Funding Digital Culture 

At the bottom of these questions and condemnations is the presumption— 
rather arrogant, I would say— that folding shop is somehow a failure to ful- 
fill some solemn obligation. T his seems strange: as though the nominal insti- 
tution had somehow subsumed the potential of the people it was made of. 
That this l<ind of creeping institutionalism would appear in Nettime, of all 
places, seems especially curious Just "where" is Nettime? At Desl<? At the 
Thing? In Ljubljana? In Berlin? In London? In Budapest? This distribu- 
tion—as much between people as between sites— is both Nettime's strength 
and its weal<ness. I n the wake of Ljubljana, I heard some grumbling about 
disorganization, about how there were no solid resolutions, no definitive pro- 
grams or advances And I thought that this was great: it'svery easy to cement 
social organization around programs, but harder to preserve looser bonds- 
loyalties, trust, a certain faith. So here we are, presented with the (to my mind 
rather forced) "spectacle" of Ada'web's demise, attended by great finger- 
wagging and l-told-you-soing and lesson-learning and whatnot. All of it 
privileging the institution over the individual. N ow, M r. Weil may be (or may 
have been) an Executive Curator, but that doesn't mean Ada'web was a 
M VSEVM carved in stone. To demand that of electrical signals built on a 
small group of people, at this stage of the game, is excessive, I M 0 . 

Date: Sun, 08 M ar 1998 22:57:06 -0500 
From: Stephen Pusey <scp@plexusorg> 
Subject: Re: Funding Digital Culture 

What constitutes a networked entity and where is it located? At the points of 
broadcast or reception? And of course, all of these names artnetweb, 
PL EX U S, T he Thing, and so on, are but temporary and formative identities 
that propose indeterminate perspectives at various times in the shifting 


milieu of digital culture. T he types of individuals that instigate these proj- 
ects, are themselves a guarantee against institutionalization, of that you can 
be assured. Furthermore, my proposal to use an association lil<e digicult 
(FDC) asa focal point for lobbying of governments on behalf of digital cul- 
ture, should not be interpreted as a move towards institutionalizing the 
process. Such an entity would have its form and policy shaped by an inter- 
networked community of cultural practitioners and would exist only as long 
as they wished it to. Again, the location for such an association would be its 
networked community. Part of its charter could be the subversion and per- 
suasion of funding agencies worldwide towards an awareness and support of 
a critical digital culture. 

Date: Tue, 10 M ar 1998 17:22:12 -0500 
From: (Benjamin Weil) 
Subject: funding for the arts, etc. 

M r. Byfield's postings have encouraged me to step in for a last time, and clar- 
ify a number of points here. 

(1) Part of Ada'web's founding mission was to explore possible alternatives 
as far as funding for art online was concerned. John Borthwick and I believed 
it was important to consider the landscape, and figure out a way we could 
derive an economic model for a type of art production which was no longer 
unique (no commodification possible here!) and whose only existence— so to 
speak— was virtual. T he idea was to be able to commission works, and com- 
pensate the artists we invited to work on those projects 

(2) Looking for alternate means of support was partly informed by the diffi- 
culty experienced by colleagues who sought to get public funding for their 
activities, and the fact that we wanted to fully concentrate on producing 
those works, rather than having to find work for hire contracts (For the 
prompt to fire insults, I will here state very clearly: this is not by any means a 
value judgment, but just reflecting a choice to try and do things differently). 
Furthermore, it was my belief that the development of the web would be an 
extraordinary opportunity for art to desegregate itself, and (re)gain a central 
position in the ambient cultural discourse and practice. Both John 
Borthwick, the Ada'web team and I believed that exploring the dynamics 
and pushing the limits of the medium with the artists we produced work 
with, as well as the ones we hosted the projects of, was an important thing to 
contri bute to the net. 1 1 was one model among the many that were— and still 
are— being developed. 

(3) Working with corporate money was assumed to be one way of dealing 
with the absence of public funding H owever, rather than knocking at the 
corporate door asking for "charity" money we thought we could convince 
them that art could be a valuable asset, as artists have always been cultural 
forerunners, and that in that sense, it could be understood as a form of cre- 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 44 

ative research which could make them understand better the medium th^^ 
were investing in, and draw attention to their corporation as being innovative. 

To conclude, I must admit that the extreme violence of certain protagonists 
in this discussion surprised me: I guess that anyone who is not perpetuating 
a certain position of hatred vis-a-vis corporations, anyone who tries to find 
different ways to do things, tries to posit the problems differently is just a 
criminal who needs to be immediately punished. And BTW, those of you 
who feel that artists should remain "pure" and "independent" (like there is 
of course such a thing as independence, we all know that, right?) you will be 
happy to learn that yet another website was just closed, another "corporate 
teat sucker"!, another site that was trying to do things differently 
was nixed. 

Date: Wed, 11 M ar 1998 10:12:56 -0500 (EST) 
From: Keith Sanborn <> 
Subject: Re: funding for the arts etc. 

(1) A sponsored site enters the market as advertising W hile it's not a physi- 
cal commodity that is sold to its recipients, the recipients, as R ichard Serra 
quoting someone else once said "are the commodity" Television delivers 
people to advertisers; corporate sponsors buy attention for themselves by 
using art to attract potential users of their services 

(2) It seems the only thing you've "done differently" is failed to pay in mon^ 
terms the artists whose work you use for advertising. I think we already cov- 
ered this with reference to M anfreddo Tafuri: "The fate of formal innova- 
tion in the arts isto be co-opted by advertising" It's a bit more complicated 
in the case of less visible sponsorship, but not a lot different than those 
Absolut Vodka ads The difference being that Absolut Vodka had to pay the 
artists for the more radical product placement. 

(3) The notion that "artists" need support on the web, at least in North 
America or Western Europe, isfar from self-evident. For a relatively low cost 
and low investment of learning time it is relatively easy to create one's own 
webpages and place them. If artists wish to use the services of a site sup- 
porting artists in order to increase their visibility, then they are simply using 
the site to advertise their work. They are allowing their work to be used in 
exchange for the privilege of having it seen, which could conceivably lead to 
some other long term benefit. Corporate or government or individual 
patronage is never disinterested. No matter how much of a potlatch mental- 
ity is involved, the potlatch aspect is used to enhance one's prestige as it is 
with its originators, the indigenous inhabitants of Northwestern North 
America. 0 ne affirms one's right to one's potlatch seat by giving away things 
on deliberately public occasions; one catches hold of a grooviness quotient 
in the corporate hierarchy by sponsoring artists Duh! 


Date: Sat, 14 M ar 1998 17:15:12 -0500 

From: Stephen Pusey <> 
Subject: Re: Funding Digital Culture 

H ere is an opportunity to examine tlie viability of models for funding arts 
organizations Judging from the examples of both Ada'web and Word, the 
model of ownership by a parent corporation is not conducive to a long-term 
development, though it may very well serve the interests of a short-term 
research project. Scott Baxter, Icon's (the owners of Word) president and 
chief executive, succinctly expresses the cold pragmatism of the corporation, 
"Real business, real profit, I don't derive that from Word lil<e I did histori- 
cally," ...said claiming ownership of thezinein earlier days helped put "Icon 
on the map" and all but "closed deals" for its salespeople. 

Weil seems unclear as to what is meant by independence. To be sure, we can 
argue 'till the cows come home about the varying degrees of dependence 
that bond individuals and social groups Let me clarify what I mean by the 
term in respect to arts organizations, in particular the online arts communi- 
ty. An independent organization isan entity, in my view, that may draw fund- 
ing from many sources, private, corporate, government, etc., but allows none 
of these to control, dictate, or otherwise affect its development or lifespan. 
The importance of this cannot be underestimated. 

To emphasize, my argument is not against corporate, government or private 
sponsorship per se, but that having to justify the agenda and existence of an 
arts organization to shareholders or a parent corporation is both unhealthy 
and intolerable as it inevitably entails a compromising alignment of interests 
To quote Benjamin Weil, "the relationship with our corporate "parent"— 
Digital City, Inc.— has to be nurtured so as to develop a common ground 
where both parties understand what's in it for them" (<http:/ / www.atnew^ view323.htm>). 

Clearly there is a need to debate and formulate a strategy for sponsorship 
which encourages long-term growth of digital culture. Environments like 
PLEXUS, artnetweb. The Thing, Stadium, and so on, though fueled per- 
haps by Utopian ideals, are built largely on the unfinanced labor of their 
founders and collaborators T heir progress however, is not aided, but ham- 
pered by a lack of funding. 

[Edited by Felix Stalder and Ted Byfield.] 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 46 



DATE: SUN, 1 FEB 1998 12:22:35 -0700 

I n the summer and fall of 1994 I helped create H otWired, and served as its 
first executive editor. I quit a couple of weeks after it was launched, in late 
1994. What I had in mind had elements of a magazine (editorial filtering, 
creative design, regular, high-quality, "content"), but was much more like a 
community (many-to-many unfiltered, audience-created content). I spent 
most of 1995 having great fun updating my webpage every day I did all the 
writing, editing, design, illustrations, HTML. I talked friends of mine in 
America, Europe, and Japan into writing for free. In late 1995 I got it into 
my head that I should expand what I was having such fun doing. When I sat 
down to figure out how to pay my writers and editors, hire a "real" design- 
er, and license a webconferencing system, it looked like it would cost tens of 
thousands per month and take us three or four months to launch. 
Lesson number one was that everything in a startup thatdependson cutting- 
edge technology takes longer and costs more than originally estimated, even 
when you take lesson number one into account. 
Deciding to pay people reasonably well (but by no means extravagantly) for 
editorial content, art and design, and technical services led meto need more 
money than I had. That's when I made what I now clearly see to be my 
most fundamental error: I got caught up in the intoxication of venture-cap- 
ital financing, which was in a particular state of mania in late 1995. 1 con- 
nected with a business partner I didn't know, but who knew how to go about 
securing financing and putting together a company— my second funda- 
mental error. I failed to listen to my own nagging doubts and made a bad 
choice in partners. 

I take responsibility for making the decisions that led to both the success and 
the failure of E lectric M inds We made a lot of bad decisions (though prob- 
ably not many more than average for startups), but the decision to go for ven- 
ture capital made all the other decisions moot. M y new partner introduced 
me to a fellow from Softbank Ventures, for whom a million dollars was a rel- 
atively small investment. Softbank was an early investor in Yahoo!, and had 
bought Comdex and Ziff-Davis outright. I told the guy from Softbank that if 
we could figure out how to combine community and publishing, then the 
other companies in the Softbank investment portfolio could leverage that 
knowledge profitably I believed, and still do, that it is possible to grow 
healthy sustained online discussions around Yahoo!, Comdex, and Ziff- 
Davis Electric M inds was supposed to be an experiment. And the million 
dollars I was asking for wasjust a down payment on a several-year relation- 
ship. At that point, any business plan for an internet business was a conjec- 


ture; thinking about liow virtual communities could make business was in the 
realm of science fiction. We agreed that the first step was to build an exem- 
plary product that would demonstrate the cultural viability of combining 
editorial content and virtual community. We agreed that it would take at 
least three years to become profitable 

Both Softbank and I realized that we were gambling when we projected that 
within three years Electric M inds could attract enough traffic to make sig- 
nificant advertising revenues 

We were funded in M arch 1996 and launched in November. In December, 
T i me magazine named us one of the ten best websites of the year. By July 
we were out of business Softbank, which had been expanding its invest- 
ment funds to billions of dollars in size, mostly through Asian-based 
investors, stopped expanding. And when something that big stops expand- 
ing, it's a big loss T hey were making millions of dollars a day just moving 
their electronic liquidity around world markets. M oving electronic liquidity 
around world markets is really the only game in town; all other industries 
and enterprises are tickets to that game. When Softbank's bubble stopped 
growing, they started thinking like venture capitalists again. It is my belief 
that the person who sponsored us for Softbank was thinking properly about 
the way to research the future of the medium, but wasn't thinking properly 
as a venture capitalist. 

Venture capitalists want ten times their investment, and they would prefer to 
get it in three to five years G ood venture capitalists bring their connections 
and experience to the table, and actively help the founders build a business. 
I n many business plans, including ours, a specific schedule of financial mile- 
stones is established. In many VC investment contracts, there are "claw- 
back" provisions (what an evocative term!) that empower the investor to take 
more control of the company every time a milestone is missed. When 
Softbank took a cold look at their investments and started weeding out the 
ones that were less likely to achieve a ten-times return, they withdrew their 
verbal promises— which had not yet gone to written contract— of bridge 
financing We did have revenues— IBM had contracted Electric M indsasthe 
exclusive provider of virtual-community services when they conducted the 
K asparov versus Deep Blue II chess match. Although we had not started out 
with the intention of providing virtual community-building services for 
other commercial enterprises, the need to ramp up revenues made it an 
attractive idea, and one that was not outside our original mission to encour- 
age virtual communities on the web. 

When someone has two million dollars invested, in hopes of expanding it to 
twenty million, they tend to push hard in the direction of attractive revenue 
sources I knew clearly what I wanted to accomplish when I started— to 
launch a sustainable and high-cultural enterprise on the web, to show how 
content and community could work together to create a new hybrid medi- 
um, and to encourage the growth of many-to-many communication on the 
web. But the gravitational attraction of a twenty-million-dollar goal can 
draw the enterprise away from the course the founder originally envisioned. 
I n order to continue paying for what many reviewers had acknowledged was 
high-quality content and conversations, Electric M inds was on its way to 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 48 

growing from fourteen employees to thirty, witli most of our revenues 
derived from contract worl< building virtual communities for others. Jerry 
Yang at Yahoo! was enthused about us and gave us permission to create an 
experiment in web form-based community building. We were in discussions 
with Ziff-Davis, IBM , and Softbanl< Expos 

When we ran out of operating capital and dissolved the business, I found 
myself not only relieved, but happy that I wouldn't be spending my time 
doing what I had promised to do for Ziff, IBM , and Softbanl< Expos The 
Yahoo! project still seemed lil<e it could have been fun. But I had never set 
out to creates virtual community- building agency and didn't want to spend 
my time running one. I had never set out to mal<etensof millions of dollars, 
which probably contributed to our failure to thrive. 
When I had the time to thinl< about where I had gone wrong, it seemed clear 
to me, and still does, that if I had simply added inexpensive conferencing 
software and continued doing my amateur editing and design, I could have 
grown something less fancy but more sustainable, even if not in financial 
terms Venture capital, I concluded, might be a good way to ramp up a 
Netscape or a Yahoo!, or create a market for a kind of technology product 
that never existed before. But it isn't a healthy way to grow a social enterprise. 
It doesn't take too many people to sustain a small online community. Of 
course, many great conversations take place via mailing lists, but conferenc- 
ing (BBS, message-board, newsgroup) media have their own unique capabil- 
ities, though they are also a little more expensive to run than a list. W hen we 
created The River (<>), the idea was to create a cooperative 
corporation that would enable the people who made the conversation to also 
own and control the business that made the conversation possible. A couple 
of hundred people each contributed a couple of hundred dollars and agreed 
to pay fifteen dollars a month, and that turned out to be sufficient to buy a 
Pentium box and software licenses and make a co-location deal with an 
internet service provider. Technical and accounting services are voluntary It 
works pretty well. 

I have returned to spending my time the way I most enjoyed before my two 
years as an entrepreneur. I update my website (<>) a 
couple of times a week and communicate directly with my audience. I'm 
adding inexpensive webconferencing software in a week or two, and I 'm cre- 
atinga small community to discuss the things that interest me— technology 
the future, media, social change. It's a hobby— I carry the costs It makes me 
much happier to run it. 

Setting up The River as a coop had its problems Running a coop, particu- 
larly among Americans, can result in perpetual and not-altogether-pleasant 
shareholder meetings There's a lot of blah-blah-blah in making decisions 
democratically People get angry and leave. But a sufficient number have 
remained so that T he River has survived for three years (T he legal structure 
that enabled them to organize was the California cooperative corporation. 
T he legal restrictions on cooperative corporations vary from country to 
country state to state.) 

Webconferencing software is becoming more and more capable, and as sev- 
eral excellent products compete with each other the prices are dropping It's 


not very expensive to add many-to-nnanyconnnnunicationswith a web-based 

interface to any website. 

N ow, just so I don't forget to lool< at tlie bigger picture, I definitely acl<nowl- 
edge tliat there are legitimate questions to pursue about wliether spending 
time typing messages to strangers via computers is a healthy way for people 
and civilizations to spend their time There is the perpetual and also legiti- 
mate debate about whether it debases the word community (and what is the 
word supposed to mean these days, anyway?) to use it to describe online con- 
versations. All I can say is that many people might end up much happier by 
starting out to grow a small, unprofitable, sustainable web-based cultural 
enterprise, than to invitethepressure-toward-hypergrowth that accompanies 
venture capital financing 

NEniM E / M ARKETS / PAGE 1 50 


DATE: SAT, 17 OCT 1998 08:34:33 +0100 

Not, perhaps, ance the printing press'sinvention hasEuropean culture expe- 
rienced so much upheaval. T he very underpinnings of the notion of culture 
and of its modes of production, socialization, and appropriation are under 
attack. I am speaking, of course, of culture's integration in the creation of 
economic value. T his integration process has accelerated since the beginning 
of the eighties through, on the one hand, the globalization and increasing 
pervasion of finance in the economy, and on the other, the onslaught of so- 
called new technologies. 

M any have raised their voices in defense of culture, intellectuals, and artists 
The strongest and most organized opposition to culture's subordination to 
economics came together when commercial relations regarding audiovisual 
production were being renegotiated, and around the issue of "authors' 
rights"— the very definition of which is open to discussion once new media 
are in the picture 

At least in France, the strategy of cultural defense seems to go beyond these 
first forms of mobilization against large U.S. communication and enter- 
tainment corporations T hat strategy tends to involve protecting the "cul- 
tural exception." 

The artists and intellectuals— and politiciansand governments— who demand 
the right to a "cultural exception" see themselves as heirs to a tradition of 
European cultural autonomy and of art and artists' independence from poli- 
tics and economics The strategy of "cultural exception" supports seems to be 
the re-entrenchment of the separation between culture and the economy 
This position— which, in my opinion, reflects a larger European point of 
view— is weak and, once scrutinized, untenable with regard to the new 
modes of knowledge's production and circulation. T he hypothesis I 'd like to 
put forward turns the cultural exception strategy on its head; it can be sum- 
marized in this way: the modes of production, socialization, and appropria- 
tion of knowledge and of culture are different than the modes of produc- 
tion, socialization, and appropriation of wealth. Georg Simmel's intuition 
was that it is the modes of production and socialization peculiar to culture— 
not culture's autonomy— that must be introduced into the economy Nor can 
that introduction be on a volunteer basis, since— as Gabriel Tarde has it— 
"intellectual production" tends to shape the direction and organization of 
wealth production, and the "need to know," "love of beauty and greediness 
for the exquisite" are the main outlets opened to economic development. 
I will therefore use these two authors, and particularly the "economic psy- 
chology" published by Tarde in 1902— nearly a century ago— to unpack my 
argument. Let us keep in mind thatTarde's remarkable early insights are not 

This is a story about invisible hands. 
This is a story about endless worl<. 
This is a story about women's work 
of maintenance and survival. This is 
a story about the laboring female 
body In the Invisible feminine econ- 
omy of production and reproduc- 
tion. This is a story about repetition, 
boredom, exhaustion, stress, crash- 
es. This is a story about tedious, 
repetitive, straining, manual labor 
harnessed to the speed of electron- 
ic machines. [Faith Wilding <744?i 
47.2452@CompuServe.Com>, The 
Economy of Feminized Maintenance 
Wori<, Tue, 8 Sep 1998,] 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 59 

really part of European cultural tradition, since his theory has been largely for- 
gotten. Based on the mode of production particular to culture, and especially 
knowledge, Tarde proposes an intriguingly contemporary critique of political 
economy by inverting the starting point of economic analysis Rather than 
starting from the production of use-value— that is, "material production" (the 
famous pin factory which went from the encyclopaJie des Lumieres to Adam 
Smith's Scottish moral philosophy therein becoming the incipit of political 
economy)— he started from the production of knowledge, that is, books 
"H ow is a book made? It is no less interesting than knowing how a pin and 
a button are made": an unimaginable opening line for economists of his 
day— and, perhaps, of our own— but far less so for us, since the production 
of a book may be thought of as a paradigm for post-Fordist production. 
Like any other product, "truth-values," as Tarde calls knowledge, are the 
result of a production process As apparatuses develop to make knowledge 
production and consumption practices more and more reproducible and 
homogenizable— Tarde talks of the "press" and "public opinion," while we 
might turn to television, computer networks, and the internet— these appa- 
ratuses take on a "quantity character that is more and more marked, increas- 
ingly apt to justify their comparison with exchange-value." Does this make 
them merchandise like any other? 

T he economy does indeed treat them as it would economic wealth, consid- 
ering them as utility- value like others But for Tarde, knowledge is a mode of 
production that cannot be reduced to the "division of labor": it is a mode of 
"socialization" and "social communication" that cannot be organized by the 
market and through exchange without distorting its production and con- 
sumption value. 

Political economy is forced to treat truth-values as it does other goods T his 
is because, first, it knows no other method than that which it elaborated for 
the production of use-value; second, and more important, though, it must 
treat these truth-values as material products, or else overturn its theoretical, 
and especially political, underpinnings In fact, the "lumieres" (beacons), as 
Tarde sometimes calls knowledge, exhausts political economy's notions of 
economy and of wealth, founded on scarcity lack, and sacrifice. Like politi- 
cal economy then, let us start with production— but of books, not of pins 
With the production of books we are immediately confronted with the need, 
in principle, to switch modes of production and property regimes with 
regard to what economics theorizes and legitimizes 
"T he rule in the matter of books is individual production, while their prop- 
erty is essentially collective; for "literary property" has no individual mean- 
ing unless works are considered goods, and the idea of the book does not 
belong exclusively to the author before being published, that is, when it is still 
a stranger to the social world. Inversely the production of goods becomes 
more and more collective and their property remains individual and always 
will, even when land and capital are 'nationalized.' There is nothing suspi- 
cious about the fact that, in the matter of books, free production is vital as 
the best meansof production. A scientific organization of labor which would 
regulate experimental research or philosophic meditation through legislation 
would produce lamentable results" 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 60 

The large multinationals of the Information economy are prepared to rec- 
ognize the impossibility of organizing production according to "scientific 
management." T hey are insufferable, however, regarding property regimes 
Is the notion of property applicable to all forms of value, from utility-value 
to beauty-value to truth-value? Can we own knowledge as we own a utility- 
value? Perhaps, responds Tarde— but not in the way that economics or legal 
studies understand It, that Is* as "free disposition." 
"In this sense, one is no more owner of one's glory nobility or credit 
[toward society] than he [sic] is of his limbs, which, as living things, he can- 
not relinquish to others. He therefore has nothing to worry regarding 
expropriation for these values, the most Important of all, and the most dif- 
ficult to nationalize." 

In order to avoid the necessity of the new mode of organizing production 
and the new property regime Implied by the nature of knowledge, political 
economy Is obliged to turn "Immaterial products" Into "material products," 
that is, into goods like any others, for book production problematizes the 
exclusively Individual property and disciplinary production upon which the 
economy Is based. 

Let us move to consumption: Can the consumption of wealth be compared 
to the consumption of truth-values and beauty-values? Tarde wonders, "Do 
we consume beliefs by thinking of them, and the masterpieces we admire by 
gazing upon them?" 0 nly wealth, as political economy defines it, affords a 
"destructive consumption" that. In turn, supposes trade and exclusive appro- 
priation. The consumption of knowledge, on the other hand, supposes nei- 
ther definitive alienation nor destructive consumption. 
And to deepen the specificity of the "consumption" of knowledge, let us 
analyze the mode of "social communication," truth-value's form of trans- 
mission, of which economists cannot conceive except under the form of the 
"market." Tarde first tells us that knowledge need not be exclusive property 
in order to satisfy the desire of knowing, and does not require the definitive 
alienation of the "product." H e then adds that the transmission of knowl- 
edge lessens neither he who produces it nor he who exchanges it. 0 n the 
contrary the diffusion of knowledge, rather than depriving its creator, aug- 
ments his value and the value of the knowledge itself It Is therefore not 
required that it be an object of exchange in order to be communicated. 
"It is by metaphor or the abuse of language that we say that two people in 
dialogue are 'exchanging their ideas' or their admiration. Exchange, with 
regard to beacons [knowledge] and beauty, does not mean sacrifice; it means 
mutual influence, through the reciprocity of gift, but of a special class of gift 
which has nothing to do with wealth. H ere, the giver deprives himself by giv- 
ing; with regard to truths and beauty, he gives and retains at the same time 
In the matter of power, he sometimes does the same thing.... For the free 
exchange of ideas, as for religious beliefs, arts and literature, Institutions and 
morals: between two peoples, neither may in any instance be reproached as 
those engaged in the free trade of goods might be reproached— of being a 
cause of impoverishment for one of them." 

T he statement "the value of a book" is ambiguous, for it has both a venal 
value as something that is "tangible, appropriable, exchangeable, consum- 


able," and a truth-value as something that is essentially "intelligible, unap- 
propriable, unexchangeable, unconsumable." The book may be considered 
both as a "product" and as "knowledge." As a product, its value may be 
defined by the market— but as knowledge? 

T he ideas of loss and gain are applicable to knowledge, but here the eval- 
uation of losses and gains demands an ethics, not a market. A book is cre- 
ated for or against other books, just as a product is created for or against 
other products Only in the latter case, however, may competition be 
decided by prices; in the former, an ethics is required. T he transmission of 
knowledge has more to do with gift or with theft, which are moral notions, 
than with exchange. 

"On the other hand, and by its [the free trade of ideas] very nature as a recip- 
rocal addition, not a substitution, it arouseseither fertile matings or fatal shocks 
between the heterogenous things it brings together 1 1 may therefore cause great 
harm when it does not do great good. And just as this intellectual and moral 
free trade inevitably becomes an accompaniment to economic free trade, the 
reverse is also true: separated from one another, each would be ineffective and 
inoffensive But, I repeat, they are inseparable, and to last indefinitely a pro- 
hibitive tariff must be matched by an I ndex, that ecclesiastic prohibitionism." 
According to Tarde, then, the modes of production and communication of 
knowledge lead us beyond the economy We are beyond the necessity of 
socializing intellectual forces through exchange, division of labor, money or 
exclusive property. T his does not mean that the relations of power between 
social forces are neutralized— in fact, th^ show up as fertile matings or fatal 
shocks b^ond the market and the exchange of wealth. T his means that the 
unavowed ethical nature of economic forces resurfaces powerfully as a sin- 
gle mode of "economic regulation" at the very moment in which economic 
production is subordinated to intellectual production. 
H ere we find the N ietzschean problem of the "hierarchy of value" and the 
"great economy" but on different terrain. 

Tarde gives another example, this time on "training," which leads us to a 
similar conclusion. We may establish a comparison between the production 
of wealth and the production of truth-value through teaching We may 
therefore, for pedagogy, define the various factors through which teaching is 
produced, just as economists distinguish labor, land, and capital in the pro- 
duction of "beacons," so may we distinguish the activity and intelligence of 
the student and the knowledge of the professor "T he truth is that these 
assays are not terribly useful. Above all, the first condition for good instruc- 
tion—the teacher's and student's psychological conditions having been 
met— is a good school program, and a program supposes a system of ideas* 
a belief Similarly the first condition for good economic production is a 
moral code to which all agree A moral code is a program for industrial pro- 
duction, that is, consumption— for the two are interdependent. 
If, as some hold, the "beacons" may be related back to utility-value (they 
assume consumption and the destruction of forces and costs for the produc- 
tion; th^ are materialized in the product and have a price), the production, 
communication, and appropriation of thoughts and knowledge differs fun- 
damentally from the communication and socialization of "wealth." 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 62 

In capitalism, then, all forms of production, even the most incomparable, 
can more and more be evaluated in terms of money, yet less and less does 
l<nowledge lend itself to this sort of evaluation. H ere Tarde opens another 
hidden door of intellectual production that political economy cannot 
approach through its principles of scarcity, sacrifice, and necessity. T he prob- 
lem posed by "intellectual production" is not only that of defining an "ethi- 
cal" measure adequate to truth-value, but especially the fact that it tends 
toward a form of production that is more and more free Intellectual pro- 
duction exhausts the very raison d'etre of the economy and its science, eco- 

"Civilization's effect is to push into business— that is, into the economist's 
field— a range of things that were previously without price, even rights and 
powers. So, too, has the theory of wealth encroached incessantly upon the 
theory of rights and the theory of power, that is, jurisprudence and politics 
But against this trend, through the ever-growing freedom of widely distrib- 
uted knowledge, the border between the theory of wealth and what we 
might call the theory of beacons is growing." 

These few pages almost seem to have been written with the information 
economy and intellectual property in an immaterial economy in mind. "Free 
production," "collective property" and "free circulation" of truth-values and 
of beauty-values are conditions for the development of social forces in the 
information economy. Each of these qualities of intellectual production is in 
the process of becoming a new "contradiction" within the information 
economy for which the challenges represented today by the internet are but 
the premises of opposition to come 

Writing in the same era, Georg Simmel comes to similar conclusions "Nor 
does the communication of intellectual goods require usto snatch away from 
the one what must be tasted by the other; at least, only an exacerbated and 
quasi-pathological sensibility may truly feel slighted wlien objective intellec- 
tual content is no longer exclusively subjective property but, rather, is 
thought by others Generally, we may say that intellectual possession, at least 
to the extent that it has no economic extension, must in the end be produced 
by the very conscience of the acquirer. Yet it is clearly a question of intro- 
ducing this conciliation of interests, which derives here from the nature of 
the object, into those economic domains where, because of competition in 
the satisfaction of a particular need, no one enriches him- or herself unless 
it is at the expense of another." 

In Simmel'sfelicitous phrase, the conciliation of interests which derives from 
the nature of the intellectual object is a political program, for the logic of 
scarcity, the exclusive property regime and the mode of production are 
imposed upon its products by the new knowledge industries But if we do not 
indicate the new oppositions specific to intellectual production, if we limit 
ourselves to demanding the autonomy of culture and of its producers, resist- 
ance to contemporary capitalism's domination of culture remains nothing 
but a pious vow. 

And yet the contemporary production of wealth integrates not only produc- 
tion, socialization and appropriation of knowledge, but also beauty-value, 
that is aesthetic forces As long as needs become more and more specialized, 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 63 

aesthetic value is one of tlie basic elements whicli stimulate the desire to pro- 
duce and the desire to consume This process, which had only just started 
when Tarde wrote these pages, and which was barely perceptible by the econ- 
omists of his day has undergone an extraordinary acceleration, starting with 
the blossoming of what we may call the information or immaterial economy 
The "cultural exception" strategy's definition of culture presupposes a qual- 
itative difference between industrial labor and artistic labor. Today following 
the tendency identified by Tarde, according to which intellectual production 
subordinates economic production, artistic labor is becoming one of the 
models for the production of wealth. 

We have already seen how the notion of wealth must integrate l<nowledge, 
and how intellectual labor sketches out the tendency of the development of 
"economic progress" according to Tarde It only remains to see how artistic 
labor might lead to an understanding of this radical change According to 
Tarde, every activity is a combination of imitative and inventive labor, but 
also of artistic labor, present in quite unequal proportions Industrial labor 
does not escape this rule What relationship is there between industrial and 
artistic labor? The clear distinction he establishes between industrial and 
artistic labor does not rule out the continuity of transition. 
T he social definition of artistic activity grasped magnificently by Tarde may 
inspire several reflections on how, by integrating industrial activity, it may 
change the relationship between producer and consumer. Of Tarde's defini- 
tion of artistic labor, let us underline two aspects: on the one hand, the deter- 
mining role played by the "imagination"; on the other, the fact that in artis- 
tic activity the distinction between producer and consumer tends to erase 
itself We need not add that, here too, Tarde's considerations are of great 
importance in determining the status and function of the "consumer-com- 
municator" of contemporary society." Under post-Fordism, in effect, the 
clientele of any industrial production (and notably in all production in the 
information economy) tends to identify itself with a particular public which, 
in turn, plays the role of both producer and consumer. 
Sensation is the nonrepresentative and therefore noncommunicable element 
that, according to Tarde is the very object of artistic labor "We have said it 
from the beginning: the phenomena of conscience are not entirely resolved by 
belief and desire by judgment and intention. Lurl<ing in these phenomena is 
always an effective and differential element playing the principal role in sensa- 
tions and which, in the higher sensations— that is, feelings, even the most quin- 
tessential— acts in a dissimulated way which does not mal<e it any less essen- 
tial. Art's virtue and its characteristic is to regulate the soul by gripping it 
through its sensational side As the handler of ideas and intentions, it is cer- 
tainly inferior to religion and to the various forms of government, politics law, 
and morals But as an educator of the senses and of taste, it is unequaled." 
Does this mean that sensations, too, may constitute themselves as a value that 
can be measured quantitatively and therefore exchanged? And through what 
sort of apparatus, involving which sort of activity? 
"...the great artists create social forcesjust as entitled to the name of 'forces,' 
just as capable of increasing and decreasing with regularity, as the energies 
of a living creature" 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 64 

Through works of art, it isthe artist who lends social consistency to the most 
fleeting, most singular, and most nuanced of sensations By combining the 
psychological elements of our soul, where sensations dominate, artists add a 
new variety of sensation to the public through their work. Sensation and sen- 
sitivity are hence the "products" of artistic labor. 
"Yet, in thus building the keyboard to our sensitivity in extending it for us, 
and in ceaselessly perfecting it for us, poets and artists juxtapose, even sub- 
stitute for our natural and innate sensitivity which is different in each of 
us, a collective sensitivity similar for all, impressionable to the vibrations 
of the social milieu, precisely because it is born in the artist. The great 
masters of art, in a word, discipline our sensitivities and then our imagi- 
nations, causing them to reflect one another and to be aroused by their 
mutual reflection, while the great founders or reformers of religions, the 
sages, the legislators, the statesmen, discipline spirits and hearts, judg- 
ments and truths." 

For Tarde, then, artistic labor is "productive" labor in that it responds to a 
production and consumption need concerning pure sensation. We must now 
analyze how artistic and industrial labor are opposed or in harmony T he dif- 
ference between art and industry lies above all in the fact that the desire or 
appetite for consumption met by art is more artificial and capricious than is 
that met by industry and requires "longer social elaboration." 
T he desire for artistic consumption is even greater than the desire for indus- 
trial consumption, child of "inventive and exploratory imagination." Only 
the imagination which brought this desire into thisworld can satisfy it, for its 
very origin— unlike the desire for industrial consumption— lies almost exclu- 
sively in the imagination. 

"The desire that serves industry— shaped, itistrue, by the whims of itsinven- 
tors— shoots out spontaneously from nature and repeats itself daily like the 
periodic needs it translates; but the taste that art attempts to flatter is attached 
through a long chain of ideas to vague instincts, none of them periodical, 
which reproduce only by changing" 

The desire for industrial consumption preexists its object and, even when 
specified or elaborated by certain inventionsof the past, asksonly of itsobject 
to be fulfilled repeatedly; "but the desire for artistic consumption expects 
completion from its very object and asks of its new inventions that this object 
provide it with variations of their predecessors Indeed, it is natural that an 
invented desire such as this has as its object, too, the very need to invent, since 
the habit of invention can only give birth to more such habitsand increase its 
appeal." These nonperiodic and accidental needs are born of an "unexpect- 
ed meeting" and require the "perpetually unexpected" to survive. 
But another characteristic of artistic labor is of particular interest. In artis- 
tic production, it is impossible to distinguish production from consumption, 
for the artist himself experiences the desire to consume, searching above all 
to please his own taste, not only that of his public. 
"M oreover, the desire for artistic consumption is particular in that it is even 
more acute and itsjoy more intense in the producer himself, than in the mere 
connoisseur. In this, art is profoundly different than industry... In matters of 
art, the distinction between production and consumption begins to lose its 

clean, wash, dust, wring, iron, 
sweep, cook, shop, phone, drive, 
clean, iron, enter, mix, drive, delete, 
clean, purge, wash, merge, edit, 
shop, fold, phone, file, select, copy, 
curse, cut, sweep, paste, insert, for- 
mat, iron, program, type, assemble, 
cook, email, fax, cry, fon/vard, sort, 
type, click, dust, clean, etc. [Wilding, 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 65 

importance, since artistic progress tends to make of every connoiseur an 

artist, and of every artist a connoisseur." 

And yet tliese differences and opposition between artistic and industrial 
labor are in the process of falling away one after another. I nstead, a deep- 
ening adaptation has developed between these two types of activity Tarde 
himself sketches out this tendency: beauty-values must be integrated into 
the definition of wealth and artistic labor in the concept of labor, for "the 
love of what is beautiful, the greed for what is exquisite" are part of the 
"special" needs which exhibit great elasticity and therefore a wide open- 
ing for industry Tarde even foresees that the luxury industry which in his 
day concerned only the upper classes— this was the only type of con- 
sumption which exhibited "special" needs— would, with the development 
of social needs, be substituted by "industrial art, decorative art, which 
could very well be destined for a most glorious future." A few decades 
later, Walter Benjamin would come to the same conclusions, analyzing 
tendencies in industrial development and in productive activity based on 
cinematic production. 

To close, if we wish to safeguard the specificity of European culture and its 
emancipatory potential, we can no longer rush to the defense of culture and 
its autonomy for truth-values and beauty-values have become the motors of 
the production of wealth. T he more we hand off the desire for a production 
and consumption that satisfy "organic" needs to a desire for production and 
consumption that satisfy increasingly "capricious" and "special" needs— of 
which one is the need to know— the more economic activities and even 
goods themselves integrate our truth-values (knowledge) and beauty-values 
"Let us add the theoretical and aesthetic sides to all goods will become more 
and more developed— beyond, not despite their useful side." 
This conclusion might be read as catastrophic, for it demonstrates the real 
subordination of cultural and artistic production to economic imperatives 
But it is a historical opportunity, even if we do not know to seize it. For here, 
perhaps for the first time in humanity's history artistic, intellectual and eco- 
nomic labor, on one hand, and the consumption of goods and appropriation 
of knowledge and beauty-values, on the other, demand to be regulated by 
the same ethics 

[Translated by Bram Dov Abramson <>.] 


DATE: TUE, 18 AUG 1998 12:47:52 -0700 

When programmers started emailing me over tlie past few weel<s, begging 
me to denounce tlie Senate's recent decision to grant more worl< visas to for- 
eign nationals seeking high-tech employment, I was loath to run to their 
defense. Computer programmers, it seemed to me, did not need my help. 
They complain about long hours, but arrive at work at noon. They com- 
plain about low pay, but earn twice the national average. T hey gripe about 
being forced to carry cell phones, yet get wireless service for free— not to 
mention stock options, top-notch health care, 401(k) plans and loaner lap- 
top computers U ndereducated, overpaid, underage white males, they start 
new companies, hire their buddies and wake up millionaires a la Netscape's 
M arc Andreessen. 

Surprisingly in this case the programmers were right: The Senate H -IB visa 
decision did do them an injustice, but they still don't need my help. They 
need labor unions If this debate over the so-called high-tech worker short- 
age does not stir them to organize, perhaps nothing else will. U nionsfor pro- 
fessional software engineers? T he idea is not as crazy as it sounds Although 
life for some programmers might look plush, many others sing the blues 
Strong-armed to take options in lieu of paychecks they are often left empty- 
handed when the business ultimately tanks which it does in many cases 
M eanwhile, the large paychecks paid by big software companies yield much 
more humble hourly wages when divided by the number of hours worked— 
without overtime pay of course. Constantly pushed to publish products by 
unreasonably early deadlines software engineers have grown accustomed to 
pulling strings of "all-nighters" near launch time, yet still are forced to 
release products before they're ready 

Perhaps most nefariously as programmers grow older, their job security 
plummets Any stroll through a high-tech company reveals that the work 
force is very young. Norman Matloff, computer science professor at 
UC-Davis confirmed this common observation in an April report: Five 
years after finishing college, about 60 percent of computer science graduates 
are working as programmers; at fifteen years the figure drops to 34 percent, 
and at twenty years it's a mere 19 percent. A programmer described a con- 
versation he overheard at a recent company event: "Age became an impor- 
tant topic of discussion at this midday meeting, and they decided that the 
oldest person in their section of the company was twenty-nine." These 
observations are corroborated by M atloff 's study: M ost software companies 
classify programmers and systems analysts with six years of experience as 
senior even though they usually are no older than twenty-eight. Older 
employees are more expensive. Because they are more likely to have families 
for example, their benefits cost more and they are less likely to tolerate 
eighty-hour work weeks than recent college graduates 

NEniM E / WORK / PACE 1 67 

By the early eighties, women in the 
U.S. were 43 percent of the paid 

labor force. And 43 percent of all 
paid employed women were clerical 
workers. In the U.S., women were: 
80 percent of all clerical worlcens 97 
percent of all typists 99 percent of all 
secretaries 94 percent of bank tellers 
97 percent of receptionists a majori- 
ty of these jobs will be/are disap- 
pearing. In the U.S. women currently 
are: 31 percent of computer pro- 
grammers 29 percent of computer 
systems analysts 16 percent of 
executive managers 92 percent of 
data entry operators 58 percent of 
production operators 77 percent of 
electronic assemblers these statis- 
tics are not changing fast. Black 
women in the U.S. are: 3 percent of 
corporate officers 14 percent have 
work disabilities 59 percent of all sin- 
gle mothers. How many of these jobs 
will disappear? At home all women 
are: 66 percent of married working 
mothers 100 percent of mothers 99 
percent of child-care wori<ers 99 per- 
cent of primary caregivers to the 
aged 83 percent of unpaid house- 
hold workers 99 percent of domestic 
caretakers 99 percent of physical, 
emotional, and psychic human capi- 
tal maintenance workers. In the elec- 
tronic home wlli mothers become 
obsolete? In the electronic work- 
place will women become obsolete? 
[Wilding, Economy] 

And while unemployment rates for older workers are high— 17 percent for 
programmers over age fifty as of August, M atloff said, the numbers tell only 
part of the story "I get rather annoyed at unemployment statistics," the pro- 
grammer said. "They might be talking about unemployment, but they are 
not talking about underemployment. Former high-tech people have long 
since exhausted their unemployment benefits or are employed at something 
that they did not expect to be doing at their age" M eanwhile, he said, as a 
temporary employee "I have sat through meetings where managers go out of 
their way to report that they had hired new permanent employees, stressing 
that they would be working as soon as they had their visas straightened out. 
Politically it seemed very important for them to stress this" 
I s this because H -IB status employees would work more hours for less money? 
"That was my distinct impression," he said. Would this programmer join a 
union? "I am not sure if 'union' is the right word, but I definitely think that 
something should be done," he said. "Union" is the right word, said Amy 
Dean, chief executive director of the South Bay AFL-CIO Central Labor 
Council, which represents the interests of labor, both full-time and contingent, 
in Silicon Vall^. "It always makes sense for working people to come together 
for purposes of bargaining collectively to improve their workplace situation." 
U nions can provide job security for workers with seniority which is essential 
for older workers in the youth-biased software industry Dean said. "T here is 
no question that the industry (is) looking at older workers as though they are 
disposable" she said. "T hey have become too costly and now after they have 
given the best of their lives to the company the company decides that it is too 
expensive to keep them on board." Additionally unions could benefit workers 
of all ages by requiring companies to look internally or locally before hiring 
foreign workers on visas If programmers were organized. Dean said, "They 
could insist on what portion of the company's jobs go to people in-house, and 
they could insist that X percent of jobs be tagged for people that are already 
part of the company" Furthermore, unionscould convince companies to train 
workers said Dean. "Workers would have meansto sit down with the employ- 
ers and say 'We think that there should beX number of dollars spent on train- 
ing to bring us up and elevate our skill base so that we can apply to jobs being 
given to people from other parts of the world.'" "This H -IB visa issue is all 
about trying to undercut the wage and benefit rate of current American work- 
ers," Dean said. With a union, technology workers could insist on a wage and 
benefit standard as opposed to allowing companies "to bring in workers that 
are going to undercut that standard." 

That's fine for programmers who are employed full time, but traditionally 
unions have not been available for contingent workers who, like the pro- 
grammer above, work part time or are contracted to work on short- or long- 
term projects Because contingent workers now comprise 27-40 percent of 
the Silicon Valley work force (and growing), according to the National 
Planning Association in Washington, D.C., the Central Labor Council is 
upgrading its services to serve them better "Weare building an organization 
that people will be able to join to receive benefits including health and pen- 
sion," which independent contractors usually don't get. Dean said. "It will 
also provide training and skills certification, and it will advocate within the 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 68 

temporary-help industry to improve conditions for people who are working 
on a part-time or contingent basis" While this approach is not traditional 
unionization, Dean conceded, "we l<now that in the new economy we will 
need these new types of organizations" 

In the meantime. Dean urged all high-tech worl<ers to vote against 
Proposition 226 on Tuesday That proposed law, she said, would "eliminate 
the right of worl<ers to bundle together their nicl<els and dimes to have a 
voice in the political process"— including opposing future attempts to bring 
in more foreign programmers "If worl<ers cannot combine their resources, 
they have no chance to stand up to big corporations and organized busi- 
ness," which outspend labor eleven to one. Dean said. In all these ways and 
more, said Dean, "H istory shows that when people band together, they do 
better than they would if going it alone." The software industry certainly 
knows the power of banding together— after all, it was the powerful lobby- 
ing efforts of its trade organization, the I nformation Technology Association 
of America (ITAA), that succeeded in pushing companies' requests for more 
foreign labor through the Senate. Programmers— both young and old- 
deserve equally strong representation, which they can find in unions If the 
industry is scared by the so-called high-tech worker shortage, imagine the 
persuasive power of engineers on strike. 

[This text first appeared in the San F rand sco Examiner.] 


DATE: TUE, 8 SEP 1998 12:09:40 -0400 


Precocious small boy steps, jet-lagged, from Club Class. Self-contained under 
hood and high-TOG breathablefuturefabric. Self-reliance velcroed tightly into 
place, an outward manifestation of his prep-school motto— "You are alone 
Trust no one" It's been a good year for Josh, extending his dad's business into 
the nineties globe-trotting 007 execs dreaming of Suzie Wong morphed into 
transnational gotta-be G oldies dreaming of J ackie C han flicks.. 


Justin used to be an account manager up West with one of the big-noise, big- 
budget agencies Eight years living a one man yuppie revival in the pristine 
post-Lloyds white tower would have tipped a more scrupulous man over the 
edge. Walking monochrome corridors, scoping for black-clad door-whores for 
a moments abrasion can seem futile, but leaving this cathedral dedicated to the 
power of spectacle would invoke an immediate "access denied" in the four- 
star staff canteen. But ground-zero approached fast. Why not steal a few 
clients and make a go of it? Everyday could be casual Friday I magine... wear- 
ing post-rave leisure wear to work. C ool. 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 69 

"I've got the brains, you've got the looks. Let's make lots of money," as one 
of Justin's favorite songs would have it. For brains th^ turned to Andy 


Server-side back-end UNIX flavored mindfuck gives most web designers 
instant impotence and an overweening self-doubt. Not good for business let 
alone personal development. So all the black arts of CGI and increasingly 
Java are left to Andy In most cultural and technological shifts, people like 
Andy aren't the public face of the industry N ow is no exception. T hey are 
in no way "cool." They like the same music as their older brothers and dress 
in whatever is on the floor and smells least like chip fat or the sweet, baked- 
bean sweat of teen-boys' bedrooms When this cycle of boom and bust is 
long forgotten, Andy will still have his head down and know the worth of a 
good ping program. Enough of Andy 


T he beads of sweat form on Adam's artfully concealed but receding hairline, 
mirroring the gray rain as it slides asthmatically down the mildewed taxi win- 
dow. Every journey home has been like this recently A videotape plays and 
rewinds, caught in a frenzied loop, wearing his patience thin. Every dropout 
amplified. Each iteration reinforcing thefeeling that trust has been misplaced. 
T hat saving your best work for your highest-profile client has not paid off. Art 
and Business. Like grape and grain. Start out on one. Don't finish on the 
other. Four long years from version 3 through 6, slowly losing a grip on the 
point of it all. A time for change. Maybe re-invention isthe only solution. 
Notting Hill. London. Home. Flipping his last tenpence piece, the severed 
monarch's head floats, goading, mocking his situation. 0 nly one thing left to 
do: just fucking phone Justin... 



DATE: THU, 10 SEP 1998 17:39:15 +0200 

Suck, the irreverent daily webzine in San Francisco, cunningly revealed that 
the staff of W ired magazine occupied a floor in a building full of garment 
sweatshops Suddenly with this revelation, the century-long gulf between the 
postindustrial high-tech world, for which W ird isthe most glittering adver- 
tisement, and the pre-industrial no-tech world, appeared to have dissolved. 
In N ew York City this kind of juxtaposition between nineteenth-century and 
the twenty-first-century is fairly common, where the ragged strip of Silicon 
Alley— New York's concentrated webshop sector— cuts through areas of old 
industrial loft space that were once, and are again, home to the burgeoning 
sweatshop sector of the garment industry Many of the webshops, those 
much-romanticized laboratories of the brave new future, are housed 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 70 

nextdoor to garment sweatshops where patterns of work for large portions 
of the immigrant population increasingly resemble those in the early years 
of the century before industrial democracy and progressive taxation and 
the welfare infrastructure (modern industrial relations, in short) were 
adopted into law. I n recent years, we have seen the return of the sweatshop 
to the central city core (in fact, the sweatshop was never eradicated, it was 
simply driven further underground or overseas). Full media disclosures 
about these sweatshops of the sort we have seen in the last few years sum- 
mon up the misery and filth of turn-of-the-century workplaces, plagued by 
chronic health problems and the ruthless exploitation of immigrants 
I ndeed, the repugnance attached to the term sweatshop commands a moral 
power, second only to slavery itself, to rouse public opinion into a collective 
spasm of abhorrence. 

As it happens, the juxtaposition of technocultures in today's two-tier global 
cities is also strikingly similar to workplaces at the turn of the century Then, 
the sweatshop's primitive mode of production and the cutter's artisanal loft 
co-existed with semiautomated workplaces that would very soon industrial- 
ize into economies of scale under the pull of the Fordist factory ethic. Today 
the sewing machine's foot pedal is still very much in business— though com- 
peting not with steampower but with the CPU, which, at the higher end of 
the garment production chain, governs Computer-Assisted Design and facil- 
itates fast turnaround. T he sewing machine has barely changed in almost a 
hundred and fifty years, which makes it quite unique in terms of industrial 
history Because of the physical limpness of fabric, there is a portion of gar- 
ment production that cannot be fully automated and so requires human 
attention to sewing and stitching and assembly— hence the demand for 
cheap labor. Asa result, underdeveloped countries usually begin their indus- 
trialization process in textiles and apparel, because of the low capital invest- 
ment in the labor-intensive end of production. 

T here are many reasons for the flourishing of garment sweatshops, both in 
poor countries and in the old metropolitan cores: regional and global free- 
trade agreements, the advent of universal subcontracting, the shift of power 
away from manufacturers and toward large retailers, the weakening of the 
labor movement and labor legislation, and the transnational reach of fash- 
ion itself, especially among youth. The international mass consumer wants 
the latest fashion post-haste requiring turnaround and flexibility at levelsthat 
disrupt all stable norms of industrial competition. 
Public awareness of the conditions of low-wage garment labor is relatively 
advanced, even if the public tends to ignore that fact that much clothing is 
made illegally and in atrocious conditions T he antisweatshop campaigns of 
recent years— in the last two years they have been very visible and vocal in 
American mediaspace— would not have been so succe^ul if people did not, 
however grudgingly, acknowledge that their personal style in clothing comes 
at a price for low-wage workers The challenge now lies in making an impact 
at the point of sale, that is, reforming consumer psychology to the level at 
which criteria of style, quality, and affordability are all well served by appeals 
to the advantages of paying a living wage. We are much further forward than 
anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. 


T he same cannot be said of high technology. T he gulf between the fashion 
catwalk and the garment sweatshop is nowhere near as great as the gulf 
between the high-investment glitz and the heady cultural capital of the 
digerati at the top of the cyberspace chain and the electronic sweatshops at 
the bottom. Why? Even if we cannot answer thisquestion, itisworth asking 
Cyberspace, for want of a better term to describe the virtual world of digi- 
tal communication and commerce, is not simply a libertarian medium for 
free expression and wealth accumulation. It is a labor-intensive workplace. 
M asses of people work in cyberspace, or work to make cyberspace possible, 
a fact that receives virtually no recognition from cyberlibertarian digerati like 
John Perry Barlow or Kevin Kelly let alone the pundits and industrialists 
who are employed to uphold the rate of inflation of technology stocks 
Indeed, it's fair to say that most information professionals have little sense of 
the material labor that produces their computer technologies, nor are th^ 
very attentive to the industrial uses to which these technologies are put in the 
workplaces of the world. This is understandable, though not excusable, 
when these sectors are remote and invisible, on the other side, as it were, of 
the international division of labor. But it is difficult to exonerate the neglect 
of working conditions that lie at the heart of the cyberspace community 
itself, within the internet industries Like all other sectors of the economy, 
these industries have been penetrated by the low-wage revolution— from the 
janitors who service Silicon Valley in California to the part-time program- 
mers and designers who service Silicon Alley in New York. Just as Silicon 
Valley once provided a pioneering model for flexible postindustrial employ- 
ment, Silicon Alley may be poised to deliver an upgrade. M y own research 
on Silicon was done in the fledgling years of 1996 and 1997 at a time 
when the webshops also produced independent webzines or some form of 
independent publishing of creative outlet. These operations had different 
functions for different companies they employed artists and writers who 
might have been otherwise warehoused in graduate seminars and they 
promised a reasonable return on cultural labor. M ost of these shops are now 
defunct. At this point, this independent sector has almost entirely been dis 
placed by M BAs the venture capitalists and angel-seeking entrepreneurs 
0 n Silicon Alley the current cliche is "Content is D ead." 
At any rate, cultural labor in new media, no less than in the arts or educa- 
tion, is subject to what I call the Creative, wherein our labor is undercom- 
pensated because of the invisible wages that come in the form of psycholog- 
ical rewards for personally satisfying work. It is a legacy of the Romantic 
concept of the artist as separate from the world of trade, and whose activi- 
ties were unsullied by matters of commerce. At a time when nobody seems 
immune to the plague of low-wage labor, it's important that artists educa- 
tors writers and designers see this discount arrangement for what it is— 
exploitation of the prestige of cultural work to drive down wages in a mar- 
ket where the labor supply always outstrips demand. 
If Silicon Alley's new media sector gives birth to a new kind of culture Indus 
try it is not likely to be a mass media industry nor will its impact necessari- 
ly lie in the realm of leisure or entertainment. U nlike the culture industries 
of radio, film, TV, recording, fashion, and advertising, which had their start 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 72 

in the Age of the M achine, the work environment of new media is entirely 
machine-based, and labor-intensive in ways that are now the legends of 
cyberspace. "Voluntary" overtime— with twelve-hours workdays virtually 
mandatory— is a way of life for those in the business of digital design, pro- 
gramming, and manipulation. The fact is, new media technologies have 
already transformed our work patterns much more radically than they are 
likely to affect our leisure hours, just as information technologies have 
already played a massive role in helping to restructure labor and income— 
effectively reorganizing time, space, and work for mostly everyone in the 
developed world. We are seeing the dawn of new forms of leisure time gov- 
erned by labor-intensive habits tied to information technology 
All of us probably want our computers to go faster, and yet most of the peo- 
ple who work with computers already want them to go slower I nformation 
professionals are used to thinking of themselves as masters of their work 
environment, and as competitors in thefield of skills, resources, and rewards 
T heir tools are viewed asartisanal: they can help us to win advantage in the 
field if they can access and extract the relevant information and results in a 
timely fashion. In such a reward environment, it makes sense to respond to 
the heady promise of velocification in all of its forms: the relentless boosting 
of chip clock speed, of magnification of storage density of faster traffic on 
internet backbones, of higher baud rate modems, of hyperefficient database 
searches, and rapid data-transfer techniques A common repertoire of indus- 
trial, design and internet user lore binds us together and reinforces our (para) 
professional esprit de corps; but this shared culture also tends to disconnect 
us from the world of more traditional work. 

I n the other world, the speed controls of technology serve to regulate work- 
ers These forms of regulation are well documented: widespread workplace 
monitoring and software surveillance, where keystroke quotas and other 
automated measures are geared to time every operation, from the length of 
bathroom visits to the output diversions generated by personal email. 
Occupationally this world stretches from the high-turnover burger-flippers 
in M acDonalds and the offshore data-entry sweatshops in Bangalore and the 
Caribbean to piecework professionals and adjunct brainworkers and all the 
way to the upper-level white-collar range of front-office managers, who com- 
plain about their accountability to inflexible productivity schedules It is 
characterized by chronic automation, the global outsourcing of low-wage 
labor, and the wholesale replacement of decision-making by expert systems 
and smart tools; it thrives on undereducation, undermotivation, and under- 
payment; and it appears to be primarily aimed at the control of workers, 
rather than at tapping their potential for efficiency let alone their ingenuity 
(B. Garson, E iKtronic Swatshop, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1988). 
Some of you will object to my crude separation of these two technological 
environments Putting it this way encourages the view that it is technology 
that determines, rather than simply enables, this division of labor This 
objection is surely correct. It is capitalist reason, rather than technical rea- 
son, which underpins thisdivision, although technology has proven to be an 
infinitely ingenious means of guaranteeing and governing the uneven devel- 
opment of labor and resources Let me therefore revise, or qualify my origi- 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 73 

nal assertion. I won't reject it because I believe it bareiy needs to be proven 
tliat for a vast percentage of worl<ers, tliere is simply nothing to be gained 
from going faster; it is not in their interests to do so, and so their ingenuity 
on the job is devoted to ways of slowing down the work regime, beating the 
system, and sabotaging its automated schedules. It is important, then, to hold 
onto the observation that complicity with, or resistance to, acceleration is an 
important line of demarcation. But equally important isthe principle of spsd 
differential, because this is the primary means of creating relative scarcity— 
the engine of uneven development in the world economy 
Commodities, including parcels of time, accrue value only when they are 
rendered scarce. Time scarcity has been a basic principle of industrial life, 
from the infamous tyranny of the factory clock to the coercive regime of 
turnaround schedules in the computer-assisted systems of just-in-time pro- 
duction. It is a mistake again to hold the technologies themselves responsi- 
ble: the invention of the clock no more made industrialists into callous 
exploiters of labor than it made Europeans into imperialist aggressors. But 
capitalism needs to manufacture scarcity; indeed, it must generate scarcity 
before it can generate wealth. 

Ivan lllich pointed this out in his own way in his essays on E nergy and E quity 
(NY: H arper and Row, 1974), when he noted that the exchange value of time 
becomes a major economic component for a society at a point where the 
mass of people are capable of moving faster than 15 mph. A high-speed 
society inevitably becomes a class society, as people begin to be absent from 
their destinations, and workers are forced to earn so much to pay to get to 
work in the first place (in high-density cities where mass transportation is 
cheap, the costs are transferred to rent). Anyone moving faster must be justi- 
fied in assuming that their time is more important than those moving more 
slowly "Beyond a critical speed," lllich writes, "no one can save time with- 
out forcing another to lose it" (30). If there are no speed limits, then the 
fastest and most expensive will take its toll in energy and equity on the rest: 
"the order of magnitude of the top speed which is permitted within a trans- 
portation system determinesthe slice of itstime budget that an entire socie- 
ty spends on traffic" (39). 

I llich's (and others') commentaries on the emergence of speed castes from 
monospeed societies have progressively refined our commonsense percep- 
tion that the cult of acceleration takes an undue toll upon all of our systems 
of equity and sustainability: social, environmental, and economic. You don't 
have to subscribe to the eco-atavistic view that there exists a "natural tempo" 
for human affairs, in sync with, if not entirely decreed by the biorhythms of 
nature, to recognize that the temporal scale of modernization may not be 
sustainable. Faster speeds increase a society's environmental load at an expo- 
nential rate The lightning speed at which financial capital now moves can 
have a disastrous effect upon the material life and landscape of entire soci- 
eties when regional markets collapse or are put in crisis overnight. The 
depletion of nature is directly tied to the degree to which the speed of capi- 
tal's transactions creates shortages and scarcity in its ceaseless pursuit of 
accumulation. Regulation of social and economic speed in the name of 
selective slowness seems to be a sound, and indisputable, path of advocacy 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 74 

But it is important to bear in mind tliat state and World Banl< economists 
already practice such regulation, when they decide to "grow" economies at 
a particular speed in order to control the inflation specter and when they 
impose recessionary measures upon populations in order to enforce pro- 
scarcity or austerity measures It maybe crucial to remember that only those 
going fastest possess the privilege to decide to go slower, along with the 
power to mal<e others decelerate. 

If we go a little further down the chain of production, we find ourselves in 
the semiconductor workplaces, which are a different species of electronic 
sweatshop. In these factories, the hazards to labor and to the environment 
are greater than almost any other industrial sector. Semiconductor manu- 
facturing uses more highly toxic gases than any other industry its plants dis- 
charge tons of toxic pollutants into the air, and use millions of gallons of 
water each day; there are more groundwater contamination sites in Silicon 
Valley than anywhere else in the U.S. Semiconductor workers suffer indus- 
trial illnesses at 3 times the average for other manufacturing jobs, and stud- 
ies routinely find significantly increased miscarriage rates and birth defect 
rates among women working in chemical handling jobs T he more common 
and well-documented illnesses include breast, uterine, and stomach cancer, 
leukemia, asthma, vision impairment, and carpal tunnel syndrome . I n many 
of these jobs, workers are exposed to hundreds of different chemicals and 
over 700 compoundsthatcan go into the production of a single workstation, 
destined for technological obsolescence in a couple of years— 12 million 
computers are disposed of annually which amounts to 300,000 tons of elec- 
tronic trash that are difficult to recycle. The "dirtier" processes of hightech 
production are generally located in lower-income communities and commu- 
nities of color in the U.S. and throughout the Third World, augmenting 
existing patterns of environmental and economic injustice. Through the 
Campaign for Responsible Technology an international network is now 
being formed to make links with local labor, environmental, and human 
rightsgroups around the world. M uch of the groundwork for this was laid at 
a recent European Work Hazards convention in Holland, which brought 
together activists with the common goal of holding companies to codes of 
conduct through the acceptance of independent workplace monitoring. 
Because transnational companies tend to export hazards to countries where 
labor is least organized, clearly a global strategy is needed. 
Such a campaign should build on the successes of the antisweatshop cam- 
paigns in organizing coalitions among labor, human rights, and interfaith 
groups around the world. T hese non-governmental coalitions have offered a 
model of how to organize across national borders in an age of free 
trade-organized labor. As in the fashion world, the integrity of a company's 
brand name is all-important, and its chief point of vulnerability— the weak 
link in the chain of capital. Companies must keep their brand names clean, 
because it is often the only thing that distinguishes their product from that of 
their market competitors; if that name is sullied, it does not matter whether 
they use the cheapest labor pool in the world. T here is no reason why the 
brand names of AT&T, Phillips, Intel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, 
Samsung, and Fujitsu cannot be publicly shamed in the same way as Nike, 

I'm the Total Quality woman. I am 
the culturally engineered, down- 
sized, outsourced, teleworked, 
deskllled, Taylorlzed mom, just-ln- 
tlme, take-out, time-saving, time- 
starved, emotionally downsized, 
downright tired... My home is my 
work, my work Is my home. I work 
with machines; I live with machines; 
I love with machines; computer, 
modem, TV, VCR, printer, scanner, 
refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, 
vacuum cleaner, cars telephones, 
fax machine, hairdryer, vibrator, CD 
player, radio, pencil sharpener, 
blender, mixer, toaster, microwave, 
cell phone, tape recorder... [Wilding, 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 75 

The Gap, Guess, and Disney. So, too, it is important not to underestimate 
public outrage. Far from apatlietic, public concern has been inflamed by rev- 
elations about labor abuses in the industrialized and nonindustrialized world, 
where workers are physically sexually and economically abused to save 104 
on the cost of a pricey item of clothing. Unlike clothing, consumption of 
high-tech goods is not yet a daily necessity; but increasingly it is becoming a 
market in the range of household items T he planned expansion of the semi- 
conductor industry is massive, and will outstrip most other industrial sectors 
Very soon, the high-tech market will be within the orbit of consumer politics 
on the scale of boycott threats, and so many of the strategies of the garment 
campaigns will make more sense. 

I n concluding, perhaps it is worth considering why so little attention is paid 
to these labor issues in the flood of commentary directed at cyberspace. One 
reason certainly has to do with the lack of any tradition of organized labor 
in these industries. T he fight against the garment sweatshop was a historic 
milestone in trade union history, and gave rise to the first accords on indus- 
trial democracy Likewise, the recent campaigns have been on the leading 
edge of the resurgent labor movement, at least in the U.S. Nothing compa- 
rable exists in the high-tech workplaces of the new information order. 
Indeed, high-tech industry lobbyists have been leaders in efforts to under- 
mine the existing protections of labor laws A second reason has to do with 
the ideology of the clean machine: in the public mind, the computer is still 
viewed as the product of magic, not of industry It is as if computers fall 
from the skies, and th^ work in ways that are beyond our understanding. 
T he fact that we can repair our car but not our computer does not help. As 
a result, the manufacturing process is obscured and mystified. A third reason 
probably has to do with the Utopian rhetoric employed by the organic intel- 
lectuals and pundits of cyberspace. Take Kevin Kelley's influential book. Out 
of Control, five hundred pages of heady ruminations about the biologizing of 
the machine, the death of centralized, top-down control, webby nonlinear 
causality the superorganic consciousness of swarmware, and so on. 
Nowhere is there any mention of the "second world" I described earlier— 
the low-wage world of automated surveillance, subcontracted piecework, 
crippling workplace injuries, and the tumors in the livers of chip factory 
workers N owhere is there any recognition of the global labor markets— with 
their cruel outsourcing economies— that provide the manufacturing base for 
the new clean machines H is book is not an exception. T here is a complete 
and utter gulf between the public philosophizing of the whizkid new media 
designers, artists, and entrepreneurs and the global sourcing of low-wage 
labor enclaves associated with the new information technologies Boosters 
like Kelley speak of an ethic of "intelligent control" emerging from the use 
of the new media. T he term is hauntingly accurate, because it evokes a long 
history of managerial dreams, on the one hand, and automated intelligence 
on the other. H ow you feel about this ethic may ultimately depend on which 
side of the division of labor you find yourself. 

Again, the problem lies not with the technologies themselves, nor, ultimately 
with their operating speed. It is possible to have an affordable, sustainable 
media environment without electronic sweatshops, just as it is possible to have 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 76 

a sustainable world of fashion witliout garment sweatshops But as long as we 
l<eep one realm of ideas apart from the experience of the other, people simply 
will not make the connections between the two. I find this lack of impetus strik- 
ing, especially among new media professionals themselves who are well posi- 
tioned to mediate, and act accordingly T here has been a good deal of atten- 
tion to labor conditions facing multimedia artists and other new media profes- 
sionals, and, at least in the realm of software, there is some sense that their self- 
interest and expertise carries some weight, but this has not been extended to 
the conditions of production of hardware. It is surely important to see those 
conditions on a continuum, and to think beyond the self-interest of this group 
of software experts for whom the sick jokes about HTML sweatshops belong 
to a gallows humor they can afford but others cannot. T he successes of anti- 
sweatshop garment organizing have come as a surprise to many seasoned 
activists, long accustomed to being shut out of the media, to the stony indif- 
ference of the public, and to the cruel march of corporate armies across the 
killing fieldsof labor. In the case of information technology, the time is ripe for 
capitalizing on the climate for such successes Perhaps we can ©<ercise a little 
foresight, and anticipate the public appetite for responding to such abuses T he 
history of the internet should remind us that nothing is impossible and what 
was unimaginable three years ago is a fact of life today 

[Edited by Ted Byfield and Diana M cCarty] 



DATE: THU, 17 SEP 1998 10: 

Deep in the heart of the Northern Virginia suburbs outside Washington, 
D.C ., in an arena at George M ason U niversity the stage is dark when the 
blues band starts The space, usually used for college basketball games and 
pop concerts, is filled this afternoon with casually dressed but wholesome- 
looking young adults, as it might be any evening But today each attendee 
wears a photo ID badge around the neck. 

T he band plays faster and faster down below now they're rendering the 
Blues Brothers movie theme as the purple-and-white lights crescendo. Two 
figures get out of a police car parked on the arena's floor. T he figures wear 
sunglasses and fedoras, but it's clear once they get out and run onstage to 
roaring applause: These cleanshaven, tidy-haired corporate men ain't no 
Blues Brothers 

M ore like the khaki brothers But, like the Blues Brothers, the khaki brothers 
are 0 n a M ission. And th^'re full of conviction that that mission: running 
the America 0 nline empire makes them cool. 0 ne. Bob Pittman, co-found- 
ed behemoth teen tastemaker MTV and moved on to head middle- 

IT is now the single biggest part of 
the U.S. economy, 11 percent of the 
GNP. Globalization. Free-trade 
zones. The market Economy. Bye- 
bye borders. There is no place to 
hide. Knowledge management: 
Husbandry for ideas. Mass cus- 
tomization: The market of you. J ust- 
in-time learning: knowledge at your 
fingertips. [Wilding, Economy] 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 77 

American real-estate franchiser Century 21 before bringing liis mass-marl<et 
sensibilities to AO L, where he is now president. T he other, Steve Case, spent 
his tender years as a pizza designer for Pizza H ut before founding the online 
service that would become the world's largest. H e is now its chairman, and 
thus he is the idol of a thousand young hopefuls in the corporate ranl<s 
Welcome to America Online's annual "all-hands meeting and beer bash." 
Welcome! It's the word on the free pen they give you at orientation on your 
first day at work, and it'sthe word your computer will chirp when you log on 
for the last time the day you quit and they kill your account. 
AO Lers-as-missionariesistoday'stheme, hence the Blues Brothers reference. 
Steve Case is shouldering the old white man's burden: to give the masses 
what he sees fit for them (and thereby it goes without saying, reaping enor- 
mous profits). H e's doing it in his usual uniform of denim AO L-logo shirt 
and khakis 0 h-so-casual yet painstakingly bland, it's a look much emulated 
around the AOL "campus" by twenty- and thirty-something male employ- 
ees who, like their female counterparts, drive BM Ws with vanity plates to 
work, where they sit at desks covered in Beanie Babies inside cubicles deco- 
rated with "cool" ads 

Things not well branded are not held in high esteem here. The hip image 
aimed for at the Blues Brothers beer-bash meeting is less successful, less 
cleanly orchestrated, down the food chain. "Cool," says a manage, "rock and 
roll." "He is addressing his underlings, ten or twenty young adults, as they sit 
around a conference room table T h&/ are some of the legions who program 
the content onto AOL's colorful, ad-plastered screens They're wearing 
jeans, T-shirts, the odd tattoo. T he unwincing twenty- and thirty-something 
employees are clearly used to the casually misbegotten nuggets of slang lib- 
erally tossed into the newspeak. 

All statements are positive, "win-win." Talk at this meeting, held by one of 
AO L's "creative" departments, largely revolves around how the department 
is going to hold up its end of sweetheart contracts with other corporations 
Such deals, a hefty cornerstone of AO L's strategy usually amount to the sale 
of a piece of AOL's heavily trafficked cyberspace to another corporation 
wishing to park its content, ads, or website connections where AO L's twelve 
million "members" will see them. The terms of sale, lease, or trade vary 
widely; sometimes AOL pays, sometimes the other party. Meetings and 
mass-email messages mandate how best to serve these corporate "partners," 
or dictate new conditions tacked onto their contracts 
These meetings also sometimes touch on how AOL can better deliver its 
other product— a "quality member experience"— to its other customers It's 
the usual commercial media equation: selling a product to an audience -i- 
selling that audience to advertisers = profit. T hat might not come as a shock 
to anyone who spends time clicking around the service, trying to find some- 
thing to read behind the promotional teasers scattered everywhere. 
T hese employees stick this content up on AO L's screens after it is produced 
elsewhere, text and picture, by another corporation's employees far away in 
some other hive. AO L has chosen to make contracts with dozens of maga- 
zines, wire services, television networksand reference-book companies in lieu 
of paying writers, editors, and photographers to produce original coverage 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 78 

Such convenience of access has its benefits, if this is the l<ind of thing you 
want to read. But a visit to the public library gets you much of the same 
product for free: EntertainmentWeddy, Newsweek, Compton's, except without the 
email account. 

Like the all-hands spectacle, the departmental meeting is more briefing than 
discussion. T he manager tends to rattle off names of fellow managers, in- 
house acronyms and project code words unintroduced. But none of theGen- 
X attendees are playing Buzzword Bingo under the table. It's a sad, but 
familiar, lack of solidarity among the drones 

Stock options, which even entry-level content programmers get, usually vest 
after thefirstyear of employment at AO L. Funnily enough, after exactly that 
length of time, many people are out the door. But "creatives" are probably 
easy to replace. T he fields that more traditionally employ them are notori- 
ous for their starvation wages, and AO L's money and benefits sound com- 
paratively good during the interview. And they would be, if more job satis- 
faction came with them. 

Plenty of staffers say they're demoralized by micromanagement and chron- 
ic understaffing So they end up fighting each other over time off and who 
will do that last extra chore. Smile smile wink, wink, go the bosses' emoticons 
in their "instant messages," via which they drop orders on their swamped 
underlings even as those underlings type furiously T hanks to the wonderful 
AOL medium of "IM s," the boss needn't look into the employee's harried 
eyes before si he delivers the instructions; si he needn't even be in the office. 
An IM is a small, temporary chat window that pops up on the screen of the 
person you send it to, if they're online. Wonderful invention for people miles 
apart. Bad invention for people separated by a cubicle wall, a few feet and a 
chasm of misunderstanding. 

I nterdepartmental communication got the worst marks on AO L's employee 

survey this year and last year. But communication with direct colleagues— 
the people one has to see every day— makes all the difference to an employ- 
ee's morale and quality of life. The "interactive media" jobs at this "net- 
work" company are done by individuals sequestered alone and working fre- 
netically in high-walled cubicles (which AOL calls "pods") and, in some 
cases, at staggered times of day and night. As long as workers are kept apart, 
people can't exchange information on a broad enough scale to realize it's not 
just their personal failure to fit in that's making their job suck. 
T he old-fashioned network that internet employees could most benefit from, 
the labor union, is explicitly discouraged in the AO L employees' handbook. 
"We know you are more than just an AO L employee. You're an individual 
and deserve to be treated as such... We feel it is not in the best interests of 
you or the company to participate in union activities I nstead, speak for your- 
self—directly with management." AO L's antiunion shop depends on the 
anticollective attitude of the young members of the specialist class who grew 
up under Reagan. If you come straight to Daddy instead of falling in with 
those bad other kids, we'll work something out. But don't dare go behind our 
backs We know you wouldn't; we expect your loyalty. And, anyway (appeal- 
ing here to computer-geek arrogance), you, alone, are your own best repre- 
sentative. N ot only does big daddy expect you not to need unions, you'd also 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 79 

better not expect any coddling and handholding from him. You worl< for a 
"cool company," don't you? What could you have to complain about? 
T his is where the mandatory "performance management worl<shops" come 
in. H ere, worl<ers are drilled to internalize the "management" of their own 
"performance." This means, roughly summarized: Set your own goals, but 
make sure they match up with the company's "core values," or you'd best 
find another company And if you need more or less supervision from your 
boss, tell him or her so. It's that easy. T he worl<shops are softened up with 
D ilbert cartoons, which are served without a trace of irony 
Many employees complain of AO L's worl<aholism. Low-level employees are 
expected to go the extra mile, but at a tiny fraction of the starting pay of 
other professions, which require a slavish dedication to, for example, medi- 
cine or the law. T he reward? N one is suggested; apparently you're supposed 
to feel privileged just to work here. "T here's a gym," one worker says, "but I 
can't go because nobody in my group takes an hour for lunch. "T hat con- 
trasts starkly with the employee handbook's assurance that AO L has the gym 
because it cares about your physical well-being 0 ne thing AO L does use the 
gym for is to parade middle-aged male visitors in suits through on their tours 
of the headquarters as young employees work out on the stair machines 
M eanwhile, as one-year anniversaries roll around and people quit, more 
hopeful B.A.S are bought off with a handful of stock options that sound 
great but wouldn't pay off a year's college loans In the information sweat- 
shop economy a four-year degree is required for the lowliest administrative 
job. And people with advanced degrees and specialized computer training 
can make less in real dollars than, say dropouts who worked in box facto- 
ries did in 1974. As the U.S. work force solidifies into two camps, rich and 
poor, what gold there was in them thar silicon hills has pretty much already 
been claimed. 

But there are a few happy faces rushing through AO L's corridors, carrying 
cafeteria-made wrap sandwiches and Starbucks mochas back to their desks 
White male faces, mostly attached to bodies dressed in Dockers and pressed 
shirts To them, working here is apparently fat city. M ost are, or think they 
are, on the management track. And at least a few are on a smug, egregious 
class climb, bragging about wine, resorts, cars, and boats For all their lip 
service to "new media," these typical middle-management types are planted 
firmly on the creaky old corporate ladder. 

They might want to think twice about their loyalty. It's common knowledge 
that for its users, AO L's happy-face icons mask buggy software, slow con- 
nections, and overloaded modems. And inside the company underneath 
the cheap strokes of occasional keg parties mass-emailed words of thanks, 
and management mumbojumbo, the company invests about as much in its 
wetware as it does in its semidisposable software and hardware. Both as a 
mass producer of adfotainment and as a "corporate culture," AO L repre- 
sents the cynical exploitation of the lowest common denominator. M eet 
the new media corporation, same as the old corporation but with more ads 
and less content. 

B ut what else is new? 1 1 must be remembered that AOL is not unique or even 
remarkable. Indeed this corporation is no worse than most others, and prob- 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 80 

ably better than many (no piss testing for one tiling). 
Stiii, wiien you waii< out of tiie former aircraft iiangar, tiirougli tiie giossy, 
soaring ioblDy decorated witli friendiy icons and away from tlie endless rat- 
maze cubicles tucked away behind, you'll probably say without too many 

regrets, and as cheerily as AO L's logoff farewell: Goodbye! 




DATE: THU, 15 OCT 1998, 04:54:42 -0300 


T here is too much worl< because everyone works, everyone contributes to the 
construction of social wealth, which arises from communication, circulation, 
and the capacity to coordinate the efforts of each person. As Christian 
M arazzi says, there is a biopolitical community of work, the primary char- 
acteristic of which is "disinflation"— in other words, the reduction of all 
costs that cooperation itself and the social conditions of cooperation 
demand. T his passage within capitalism has been a passage from modernity 
to postmodernity from Fordism to post-Fordism. It has been a political pas- 
sage in which labor has been celebrated as the fundamental matrix of the 
production of wealth. But labor has been stripped of its political power. T he 
political power of labor consisted in the fact of being gathered together in 
the factory organized through powerful trade union and political structures 
T he destruction of these structures has created a mass of people that from 
the outside seems formless— proletarians who work on the social terrain, 
ants that produce wealth through collaboration and continuous cooperation. 
Really if we look at things from below, from the world of ants where our lives 
unfold, we can recognize the incredible productive capacity that these new 
workers have already acquired. What an incredible paradox we are faced 
with. Labor is still considered as employment; that is, it is still considered as 
variable capital, as labor "employed" by capital, employed by capital 
through structures that link it immediately to fixed capital. Today this con- 
nection—which is an old M arxian connection, but before being M arxian it 
was a connection established by classical political economy— today this con- 
nection has been broken. Today the worker no longer needs the instruments 
of labor, that is, the fixed capital that capital furnishes Fixed capital is some- 
thing that is at this point in the brains of those who work; at this point it is 
the tool that everyone carries with him- or herself. This is the absolutely 
essential new element of productive life today It is a completely essential 
phenomenon because capital itself, through its development and internal 
upheavals, through the revolution it has set in motion with neoliberalism, 


J ust-in-time conception, just-in-time 
production, just-in-time deiivery, 
just-in-time assembly, just-in-time 
iaundry, just-in-time dinner, just-in- 
time chiid-care, just-in-time quaiity 
time, just-in-time sex, just-in-time 
pleasure, just-in-time pain, just-in- 
time stress, just-in-time insanity, 
just-in-time sacrifice, just-in-time 
drugs, just-in-time death. [Wilding, 

with the destruction of the welfare state, "devours" this labor power. But how 
does capital devour it? In a situation that is structurally ambiguous, contra- 
dictory, and antagonistic. Labor is not employment. 
The unemployed worl<, and informal or under-the-table labor produces 
more wealth than employed labor does T he flexibility and mobility of the 
labor force are elements that were not imposed either by capital or by the dis- 
solution of the welfarist or New Deal-style agreements that dominated pol- 
itics for almost half a century Today we find ourselves faced with a situation 
in which, precisely labor is "free." 

Certainly, on one hand, capital has won; it has anticipated the possible polit- 
ical organizations and the political "power" of this labor. And yet, if we look 
for a moment behind this fact without being too optimistic, we also have to 
say that the labor power that we have recognized, the working class, has 
struggled to refuse factory discipline 0 nee again we find ourselves faced 
with evaluating a political passage, which is historically as important as the 
passage from theAncien Regime to the French Revolution. We can truly say 
that in this second half of the twentieth century we have experienced a pas- 
sage in which labor has been emancipated. 1 1 has been emancipated through 
its capacity to become immaterial and intellectual, and it has been emanci- 
pated from factory discipline. And this presents the possibility of a global, 
fundamental, and radical revolution of contemporary capitalist society. The 
capitalist has become a parasite, but not a parasite in classical Marxist 
terms— a finance capitalist— rather, a parasite insofar as the capitalist is no 
longer able to intervene in the structure of the working process 


C learly when we say that the working tool is one that workers have taken 
away from capital and carry with themselves in their lives, embodied in 
their brains, and when we say that the refusal of work has won over the dis- 
ciplinary regime of the factory this is a very substantial and vital claim. In 
other words, if labor and the tool of labor are embodied in the brain, then 
the tool of labor, the brain, becomes the thing that today has the highest 
productive capacity to create wealth. But at the same time humans are 
"whole;" the brain is part of the body T he tool is embodied not only in the 
brain but also in all theorgansof sensation, in the entire set of "animal spir- 
its" that animate the life of a person. Labor is thus constructed by toolsthat 
have been embodied. This embodiment, then, envelops life through the 
appropriation of the tool. Life is what is put to work, but putting life to work 
means putting to work what exactly? The elements of communication of 
life A single life will never be productive. A single life becomes productive, 
and intensely productive, only to the extent that it communicates with other 
bodies and other embodied tools But then, if this is true, language, the fun- 
damental form of cooperation and production of productive ideas, 
becomes central in this process. 

But language is like the brain, linked to the body and the body does not 
express itself only in rational or pseudo-rational formsor images It express- 
es itself also through powers, powersof life, those powers that we call affects 
Affective life, therefore, becomes one of the expressions of the incarnation 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 82 

of the tool in the body. This means that labor, as it is expressed today, is 
something that is not simply productive of wealth: it is above all productive 
of languages that produce, interpret, and enjoy wealth, and that are equal- 
ly rational and affective. All this has extremely important consequences 
from the standpoint of the differences among subjects. Because once we 
have stripped from the working class the privilege of being the only repre- 
sentative of productive labor, and we have attributed it to any subject that 
has this embodied tool and expresses it through linguistic forms, at this 
point we have also said that all those who produce vital powers are part of 
this processand essential to it. T hinkfor example of the entire circuit of the 
reproduction of labor power, from maternity to education and free time- 
all of this is part of production. H ere we have the extraordinary possibility 
of reanimating the pathways of communism, but not with a model of the 
rationalization and acceleration or the modernization and supermodern- 
ization of capitalism. 

We have the opportunity to explain production and thus organize human life 
within this wealth of powers that constitute the tool: languages and affects 


With the concept of "the becoming-woman of labor" you can grasp one of 
the most central aspects of this revolution we are living through. Really it is 
no longer possible to imagine the production of wealth and knowledge 
except through the production of subjectivity, and thus through the general 
reproduction of vital processes Women have been central in this And pre- 
cisely because they have been at the center of the production of subjectivity, 
of vitality as such, they have been excluded from the old conceptions of pro- 
duction. Now, saying "the becoming-woman of labor" is saying too much 
and too little. It is saying too much because it means enveloping the entire 
significance of this transformation within the feminist tradition. It is saying 
too little because in effect what interests us is this general transgressive char- 
acter of labor among men, women, and community. In fact, the processes 
of production of knowledge and wealth, of language and affects, reside in 
the general reproduction of society. If I reflect back self-critically on the 
classical distinction between production and reproduction and its conse- 
quences, that is, on the exclusion of women from the capacity to produce 
value, economic value, and I recognize that we ourselves were dealing with 
this mystification in the classical workerist tradition, then I have to say that 
today effectively the feminization of labor is an absolutely extraordinary 
affirmation; because precisely reproduction, precisely the processes of pro- 
duction and communication, because the affective investments, the invest- 
ments of education and the material reproduction of brains, have all 
become more essential. 

Certainly it is not only women that are engaged with these processes; there is 
a masculinization of women and a feminization of men that moves forward 
ineluctably in this process And this seems to me to be extremely important. 


Some historical clarification is needed here. T he term multitude is a pejora- 

NEniM E / WORK / PACE 1 83 

tive, negative term that classical political science posed as a reference point. 
T he multitude is the set of people who live in a society and who must be 
dominated. M ultitude istheterm Hobbesused to mean precisely this. In all 
of classical, modern, and postmodern political science the term multitude 
refers to the rabble, the mob, and so on. T he statesman is the one who con- 
fronts the multitude that he has to dominate All thiscame in the modern era 
before the formation of capitalism. It is clear that capitalism modified things, 
because it transformed the multitude into social classes I n other words, this 
division of the multitude into social classes fixed a series of criteria that were 
criteria of the distribution of wealth to which these classes were subordinat- 
ed according to a very specific and adequate division of labor. Today in the 
transformation from modernity to postmodernity, the problem of the multi- 
tude reappears 

To the extent that social classes as such are falling apart, the possibility of the 
self-organizational concentration of a social class also disappears Therefore 
we find ourselvesfaced again with a set of individuals, but this multitude has 
become something profoundly different. It has become a multitude that, as 
we have seen, is an intellectual grouping It is a multitude that can no longer 
be called a rabble or a mob. It is a rich multitude T his makes me think of 
Spinoza's use of the term multitude because Spinoza theorized from the per- 
spective of that specific anomaly that was the great Dutch republic, which 
Braudel called the center of the world, and which was a society that had manda- 
tory education already in the seventeenth century T his was a society in 
which the structure of the community was extremely strong and a form of 
welfare existed already an extremely widespread form of welfare A society 
in which individuals were already rich individuals And Spinoza thought that 
democracy is the greatest expression of the creative activity of this rich mul- 
titude. Therefore, I think of Spinoza's use of the term, which had already 
reversed the negative sense of the multitude, like the wild beast H egel called 
it, which has to be organized and dominated. And this rich multitude that 
Spinoza conceived instead is the real counterthought of modernity, in that 
line of thought that goes from M achiavelli to M arx, of which Spinoza forms 
more or less the center, the central apex, the transition point; ambiguous, 
anomalous, but strong. Well, thisconcept of the multitude isthe concept that 
we invoked before There exists today a multitude of citizens, but saying "cit- 
izens" is not sufficient because it simply defines in formal and juridical terms 
the individualsthat are formally free You have to say rather that today there 
exists a multitude of intellectual workers, but even that is not enough. You 
have to say: there exists a multitude of productive instrumentsthat have been 
internalized and embodied in subjectsthat constitute society. But even this is 
insufficient. You have to add precisely the affective and reproductive reality, 
the need for enjoyment. Well, this isthe multitude today Therefore, a mul- 
titude that strips every possible transcendence from power, isa multitude that 
cannot be dominated except in a parasitic and thus brutal way 


H ere too, as usual, we are dealing with a sphere in which all the terms have 
been inverted— direct terms We must really succeed in inventing a different 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 84 

language, even when we speak of democracy and administration. What is 
the democracy of biopolitics? Clearly it is no longer formal democracy but 
an absolute democracy as Spinoza says H ow long can such a concept still 
be defined in terms of democracy? I n any case, it cannot be defined in the 
terms of classical constitutional democracy The same thing istrue when we 
speak of the entrepreneur, when we speak of the political entrepreneur, or 
better the "biopolitical" entrepreneur. 0 r, rather, when we speak of the one 
who could be single or a set of collective forces, that succeeds at times in 
focusing productive capacities in a social context. What should we say at this 
point? Should this collective entrepreneur be given a prize? Frankly I do 
think so, but all this has to be evaluated within the biopolitical process. I 
would say that here we really have the opposite of any capitalist theory of a 
parasitic entrepreneur. T his is the ontological entrepreneur, the entrepreneur 
of fullness, who seeks essentially to construct a productive fabric. We have a 
whole series of examples that have each been at times very positive T here is 
no doubt that in certain community experiences, red (communist) collectivi- 
ties, cooperatives basically and in certain experiences of white (liberal) com- 
munities based on solidarity, we can see examples of collective entrepre- 
neurship. As usual, today we must first of all begin to speak not only of a 
political entrepreneur, but also of a biopolitical entrepreneur, and then begin 
to recognize also the inflationary or deflationary biopolitical entrepreneur. 
The biopolitical entrepreneur determines always greater needs while organ- 
izing the community; the entrepreneur represses and redisciplines the forces 
at play on the biopolitical terrain. T here is no doubt that an entrepreneur in 
the Sentier neighborhood, to take an example from the studies we did here 
in France, is a biopolitical entrepreneur, one who often acts in a deflationary 
way Benetton is the same thing I really believe that the concept of entre- 
preneur, as a concept of the militant within a biopolitical structure, and thus 
as a militant that brings wealth and equality is a concept that we have to 
begin to develop. If there is to be a fifth, a sixth, or a seventh I nternationale, 
this will be its militant. This will be both an entrepreneur of subjectivity and 
an entrepreneur of equality biopolitically 

5316 Useless Meeting 5319 Waiting 
for Breal< or Lunch 5321 Waiting for 
End of Day 5322 Vicious Verbai 
Attacks Directed at Co-worker 5323 
Vicious Verbai Attacks Directed at 
Co-worker Whiie Co-worker Is not 
Present 5481 Buying Snack 5482 
Eating Snack 5500 Filling out 
Timesheet 5501 Inventing Time- 
sheet Entries 5502 Waiting for 
Something to Happen 5504 Sleep- 
ing 5510 Feeling Bored 5600 Com- 
plaining About Lousy J ob. Low Pay, 
and Long Hours 5603 Complaining 
About Coworker (See Code 5322 & 
5323) 5604 Complaining About 
Boss 5640 Miscellaneous Unpro- 
ductive Complaining 5702 Suffering 
from Eight-hour Flu 6102 Ordering 
out 6103 Waiting for Food Delivery 
to Arrive 6104 Taking It Easy While 
Digesting Food 6200 Using Com- 
pany Resources for Personal Profit 
6201 Stealing Pencils and Pens from 
Company 6203 Using Company 
Phone to Make Long-distance Per- 
sonal Calls 6204 Using Company 
Phone to Make Long-distance Per- 
sonal Calls to Sell Stolen Company 
Pencils 6205 Hiding from Boss 6206 
Gossip 6207 Planning a Social E- 
vent 6211 Updating Resume 6212 
Faxing Resume to Another Employ- 
er/Headhunter6213 Out of Office on 
Interview 6221 Pretending to Work 
While Boss Is Watching 6222 Pre- 
tending to Enjoy Your Job 6238 
Miscellaneous Unproductive Fanta- 
sizing 6350 Playing Pranks on the 
New Guy/Girl 6601 Running your 
own Business on Company Time 
6603 Writing a Book on Company 
Time 6612 Staring at Computer 
Screen 7400 Talking with Lawyer on 
Phone 7401 Talking with Plumber on 
Phone 7931 Asking Co-worker to 
Aid You in an Illicit Activity 8100 
Reading Email 8101 Distributing 
Email jokes to All Your Friends 


T here are reductive conceptions of the guaranteed wage, such as those we 
have seen in France— for example, the French RM I laws [Revenu M inimum 
d'l nsertion: the "minimum income" required for integration into society], in 
the form they were passed, are a kind of wage structure of poverty, and thus 
a wage structure of exclusion, laws for the poor. In other words, there is a 
mass of poor people— but keep in mind that these are people who work, who 
cannot manage to get into the wage circuit in a constant way who are given 
a little money so that they can care for their own reproduction, so that they 
don't create a social scandal. Therefore there exist minimum levels of the 
guaranteed wage, subsistence wages, that correspond to the need of a socie- 
ty to avoid the scandal of death and plague, because exclusion can easily lead 
to plague And poor laws were born of this danger in England in the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries There are thus forms of the guaranteed 
wage that amount to this But the real question of the guaranteed wage is a 

NEniM E / WORK / PACE 1 85 

different one. It is a question of understanding tliat tlie basis of productivi- 
ty is not capitalist investment but tlie investment of tlie socialized human 
brain. Therefore, the maximum freedom, the breal< with the disciplinary 
relationship of the factory the maximum freedom of labor is the absolute 
foundation of the production of wealth. The guaranteed wage means the 
distribution of a large part of income and giving the productive subjects the 
ability to spend it for their own productive reproduction. This becomes the 
fundamental element. The guaranteed wage is the condition of the repro- 
duction of a society in which people, through their freedom, become pro- 
ductive. Clearly at this point, the problems of production and political 
organization tend to overlap. 0 nee we have pursued this discourse all the 
way, we have to recognize that political economy and political science, or the 
science of government, tend to coincide Because we maintain that demo- 
cratic forms, forms of a radical, absolute democracy— I don't l<now if the 
term democracy can still be used— are the only forms that can define pro- 
ductivity But a substantial, real democracy, in which the equality of guaran- 
teed incomes becomes ever larger, and ever more fundamental. We can then 
realistically talk about incentives, but these are discourses that in today's 
world are not very relevant. 

Today the big problem is that of inverting the standpoint on which the cri- 
tique of political economy itself is based. In other words, the standpoint of 
the necessity of capitalist investment. 

We have said before and we have been saying for years that the fundamen- 
tal problem is the reinvention of the productive instrument through life, the 
linguistic, affective life of subjects Today then, the guaranteed wage, as a 
condition of the reproduction of these subjects and their wealth, becomes an 
essential element. There is no longer any lever of power, there is no longer 
need for any transcendental, any investment. 

T his is a Utopia, it is one of those utopiasthat become machines of the trans- 
formation of reality once they are set in motion. And one of the most beau- 
tiful things today is precisely the fact that this public space of freedom and 
production is beginning to be defined, but it carries with itself really the 
means to destroy the current organization of productive power and thus 
political power. 

[Translated from the Italian by M ichael H ardt. Edited by H ope K urtz.] 



(JUNE 28, 1997) 

Q : A re you returning to Italy as someone who has been defeated politically? 
Negri: Autonomia opeaia focused on the continuing transition from the tradi- 
tional labor movement to the new subjects that have formed because of the 
development of modern capitalism. A new class was facing thefactory work- 
ers' unions— a new class that didn't yet possess a new identity through its 
intellectual and social labor and operated with autonomous organizational 
structures It was our goal to shape this passage from classical factory labor 
to social labor. T he identity of this new subject, to which we referred as the 
"social laborer," determines our society today This does not mean the 
devaluing of labor as the central factor that creates wealth and value within 
society, but rather that this factor in the power structure is formed in a com- 
pletely new way through today's conditions of production. Efforts to accel- 
erate this process through political action have failed; in this we have been 
defeated, but not in our evaluation of this new concept of labor. 
Q : I n your statement to the press, you referred to the fact that you are going 
bacl< to Italy in order to facilitate your citizenship. What is the relationship 
between your exile and European unification? 

Negri: In no European country was there a reaction to the social movements 
after 1968 that was as contemptuous of human beings as that in Italy T he 
political strategy in France and Germany consisted of the political absorp- 
tion of the broad masses of the movement, for example, into the Green 
Party or into alternative projects Because of this, the radical and terrorist 
groups were isolated. In Italy things were handled— and continue to behan- 
dled— differently: the entire extraparliamentary movement was character- 
ized as terrorist and an entire generation was therefore criminalized and 
forced into internal and foreign exile. By returning, I would like to draw 
attention to the fact that the new government in Italy has the opportunity to 
"work through," honorably and democratically this legacy of the First 
Republic and bring to an end the dark past of state terrorism. T he state pol- 
icy of provocation was responsible for thousands of deaths in the seventies; 
banks were blown up and bombs planted on trains T he outrage in Bologna, 
in which more than a hundred people were killed, was carried out by the 
secret service and by paid right-wing radicals Certainly we and our move- 
ment made mistakes N one of us wanted this civil wan 
Q : Are you demanding a new, fair trial? 

Negri: No, there can't be a new, fair trial; the cases are closed. In the case of 
Sofri, there was finally a decision yesterday against a reopening of the case. 
I would like to advance the parliamentary discussion of amnesty. For the last 
four sessions of the legislature, a draft of a bill [on amnesty] has been await- 
ing a decision. In most of the judgments rendered at the time, defendants 

NEniM E / WORK / PACE 1 87 

received the maximum sentences. We cannot forget tiiat tiiere was state 
abuse of power iiere, particularly in tlie use of the state's witnesses, whose 
testimony often fell apart. T his was underscored by the French state, which 
has offered sanctuary to those sentenced by these Italian courts since 1979. 
Q: The seventeenth-century philosopher Spinoza has been important to 
your thought; he was exiled from his own community Is Italy still a land from 
which a Spinozaist must flee? 

Negri: "Spinozaism" for me means two things First, the examination of 
causes rather than of effects And, second, a call to an activism that con- 
structs new communities on an ethical foundation. These communities are 
democratic because th^ emerge through the praxis of a majority of indi- 
viduals But even Spinoza himself didn't know how to unify his intellectual 
worl< and his activism. 

Q : What would be ethical behavior in Italy today, whether as a politician or 
a private person? 

N egri: T hat can't be answered so quicl<ly and in such general terms 0 ne 
can, however, note that citizens today are in possession of greater power 
than ever before. In all areas, the productive force of immaterial labor is 
unfolding The problem at hand is that of forming a new public space in 
which democratic and productive forces will be able to become effective 
together, so that individuals [E inzdnen] discover the power of the communi- 
ty and recognize the potential of common democratic production that is 
inherent to it. Thus, I don't differentiate between political and private 
behavior, but instead think of individuality and community together on a 
democratic/ productive foundation. 

Q : H ow is it possible to behave politically in an electronic society in which 
individual workers don't know each other personally? 
Negri: Clearly it isn't easy, but I think that one must simply engage oneself 
and do it! I am taking up my political work again starting from the ground 
up, from prison. With my return, I would like to give a push to the genera- 
tion that was marginalized by the anti-terrorist laws of the seventies so that 
they will leave their internal or foreign exile and again take part in public and 
democratic life. This is our opportunity to re-identify ourselves But prison as 
a site of noncommunication, of exclusion from political activism? That's not 
the case. One communicates not only with the help of electronic instru- 
ments, but above all, through the position that one assumes in a 
political/ social situation. The position one takes within the event in which 
one is taking part communicates on the foundation of the body even on the 
internet. It is a combination of rationality and feeling, of intelligence and 
emotionality, and if it doesn't exist, all communication isempty, nonexistent. 
W hat we have in common precedes us in bodily form. 

[Translated from the Italian byJamieOwen Daniel. Edited by Hope Kurtz. 
This interview originally appeared in the German daily TAZ.] 


DATE: TUE, 29 SEP 1998 00:13:28 -0400 

I work in the network operations center (NOC) of a major internet provider. 
T lieN OC is a large room, laid out like the bridge of theStarship Enterprise, 
wherein we watch our company's internet backbone 24 hours a day, 7 days 
a week. But for all the sci-fi semiotics, the NOC is a factory floor. Like my 
father, who spent twenty years at a refinery in East Texas, turning out bales 
of synthetic rubber, I answer to a foreman. T he rubber, like the data pack- 
ets here, flowed 24 hours a day H ow did my segment of the internet indus- 
try the industry of Trekkiesand cyberpunks, turn into another boiler room, 
and so quickly? In oil and aerospace, the transition from wildcatters to wage 
slaves was measured in decades At my company it took three years 
For most of its eleven years, the company stayed small. I n 1996 it contrived 
to be bought by a larger company to gain access to a newly deregulated Euro 
internet market. The company grew up, the stock options dwindled, and 
beer was banished from the N 0 C . T he parent company ruled with a light 
hand until this summer, when NOC engineers were downgraded from 
salaried professionals to hourly technicians, because that's where operations 
people fit into our parent company's (long-distance telephony) scheme of 
things and that is that 

I n my last job I learned to spot the deadly warning signs of corporate mid- 
dle-age: exodus of mavericks, emphasis on credentials, adoption of urinaly- 
sis ("pre-employment screening"), "metrics," and the absolute bottom— Total 
Quality M anagement. M y company has manifested four of these. 
I n an operations center, information about the network flows in, computers 
make sense of it, and people act on it A NOC can be as small as a half- 
dozen workstations or as large as NASA's M ission Control Center, where I 
worked before coming to thisjob. We work in shifts, reporting on problems, 
troubleshooting them, and handing the tough ones over to the next shift. M y 
father, latein hiscareer, oversaw the rubber refinery's operations from inside 
a control room. T he rubber was piped into the building, extruded, dried, and 
baled. T his process was presented to him as a lighted flow diagram; our net- 
work is displayed on our wall as a giant cat's cradle. 
When I started working here, the company was run by gnomish old-school 
computer gods or hairy cyberpunks T he founder had invented a basic pro- 
tocol for dialing into the internet One pasty-faced geek hid behind harsh 
email personas, Oz-like, to intimidate the demobbed military types who 
staffed the NOC (and still do). But the weirdos cashed in their extremely 
generous stock options or ascended out of the NOC and became magical 
friends— systems engineers— to be called when a problem was too complex 
for the N 0 C to handle. T he founder went into semi retirement and bought 
a Star Wars X -Wing fighter he keeps in a hangar. The cyberpunks cut their 
hair. Now there are distinct castes: M orlocksin theN OC, perky Eloi in Sales, 
chameleons in middle management and a C EO who wears stylish black. 

This project is so important, we 
can't iet things that are more impor- 
tant interfere with it. Doing it right is 
no excuse for not meeting the 
scheduie. No one wili believe you 
solved this problem In one dayl? 
We've been working on It for 
months. Now, go act busy for a few 
weeks and I'll iet you know when It's 
time to teii them. 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 89 

Not that our people were very eccentric to begin with, compared to their 
counterparts in Austin, Palo Alto, or Seattle. 0 ur engineers mustered out of 
the military, telcos, and unnamed government agencies At least half have 
had Secret clearances (some had Top Secret access), which means they l<now 
about Rex 84 and the Secret U.N . Symbols on Road Signs For T heir Army 
To Read When T hey Go M arching T hrough Georgia, but have never tal<en 
LSD. T hey play the online stock market, watch stock car races on TV (wor- 
rying that NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon is gay), and eat at Taco Bell. 
T his isn't California. No one went to Burning M an. East Coast geeks don't 
have to stock up on guns, ammo, and monster trucksin anticipation of Y2K- 
bug-induced chaos, because they've already got plenty of all three. Politically, 
th^'re right-libertarian, which means they've got nothing personally against 
abortion, so long as their tax dollars don't pay for it. The meager political 
choices available here mean they consistently vote Republican. 
N 0 C engineers are like the technicians who worked at the oil refinery with 
myfather— their skills and connections got them into the NOC but can't get 
them out, especially now. A side from the experience I mentioned earlier, I've 
also learned a few tricks from bumming around the internet. I'm part of a 
group of six friends who followed each other here from Texas M y father's 
co-workers got their jobsfrom relatives or friends, and often came out of the 
oilfields or the Navy. But when this company grew, it raised the hurdles to 
promotion. It's still possible to get a NOC job without a degree, but more 
work experience is required than before. Lil<e a lot of people here, if I were 
applying today I might not getin. The company encourages thoseof us who 
don't have degrees to get them. T he degree doesn't help you very much in 
the N 0 C , but it's your only ticket out of there. W hen we were downgraded 
to technicians, we were told that we could still move to an engineer's slot 
without a degree, but the job postings say otherwise. At the refinery man- 
agement offered a similar career path for the operators, but when it was 
offered, most of those guys were well into their thirties and forties T hey'd 
have retired before th^ got their degrees T he N 0 C may be a Sargasso Sea, 
careerwise. I've got two years of internet NOC experience; the next level 
requires seven. T he company announced in January that it was raising the 
door price by one cup of urine. Existing employees are exempt. I don't know 
if the company realizes how far it can go or simply doesn't see the need. 
Since corporate HO is in the conservative Deep South, I suspect the latter. 
For all practical purposes, then, it's all academic. But it's another sign, like a 
slight shift in the wind. I have a hard time getting my co-workers to see the 
problem of mandatory drug testing, until I remind them that it extends con- 
trol over employees 168 hours a week, while paying them for only 40. Aha! 
An argument that makes sense! 

IM etrics— management by numbers instead of by people— has reared its 
ugly head. I 've had a hand in it, providing statistics on the types of problems 
the N 0 C has encountered, how long it took to solve them, and so on. It's a 
pain in the ass. 0 uerying the ticket database takes a nimble hand, and run- 
ning the numbers and making a report often take up a whole day— time I 
could spend honing my skills It's my own fault: I volunteered back when it 
was a simpler job, and now I 'm sort of stuck with it. M etrics also play a role, 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 90 

I suspect, in the doling out of annual raises. In my last job, the budget for 
raises was fixed. If someone got a great raise, everyone else competed for the 
remainder. It was a classic zero-sum game: it is not enough that I succeed, 
but you also must fail as well. I can't say for certain that this is the case here, 
but the signs— preprinted self-evaluation forms, stated limits on raises, coin- 
cidental letters of praise from the C EO — are there. 
And now I await the endgame: Total Quality M anagement. Empowerment, 
Reengineering, or whatever they'll call the beast when management lets it in 
the door. TQM (also l<nown as Time to Quit, M an), is the sign that the last 
scintilla of slack has been sucked out of the job. T he company wants you to 
work harder for less pay and like it. M arxists might call it a new Ideological 
State Apparatus; I call it crapping on my head and calling it a hat. A guy I 
work with wasat a company that required workers to do Total Quality analy- 
ses of their jobs on their own time or risk bad performance reviews Any 
meaningful suggestions (meaningful to the worker, at least) were ignored. 
H ow long before the rough beast slouches here? I give it a few months, top& 
T here's a certain logic that drives a company in this direction, or at least lays 
out a path of least resistance. After a certain point, the company's manage- 
ment loses its taste for excitement and craves respectability (not to mention 
the tall dollars it attracts). T he quickest route is reliability, for which the com- 
pany will shave off its rough edges The company grades everyone as 
Superior, Satisfactory or Watch Yerself, Bub. It may still be a nice place to 
work, but it's no longer the place to get rich, make a difference, find yourself, 
or do anything else that doesn't exactly suit the company's goal of providing 
ever-higher returns to its shareholders 

T his wasn't supposed to happen in the "way new" industry but it did. T he 
only "way new" aspect is the rapidity with which the process took place. So 
I'm trading smutty observationsabout the Clinton/ Lewinsky affair with my 
fellow NQC workers while the televisions show "Hardball with Chris 
M atthews" (with the sound off, thankfully) or the baseball playoffs I gotta 
make like H uckleberry Finn and light out for the territory But where is it? 


DATE: TUE, 8 SEP 1998 16:22:00 -0400 


In recent decades, the mass deployment of electronic technology in offices 
and workplaces has profoundly changed the structure of work and the rela- 
tionship of home and work life in ways that are having particularly disturb- 
ing effects on women. In the U.S., women who have largely been concen- 
trated in the lower echelons of the labor market— such as clerical work, the 
garment industries, manufacturing and service jobs— are increasingly being 
thrown out of waged labor and forced into part-time privatized telework, 
home-based piecework, and service labor This situation is once again con- 
fining many women to the private sphere of the home, where they perform 


double maintenance labor: that of taking care of the family, and that of 
working in the global consumer economy. Made possible by automated 
Information Technology (IT) and controlled by mobile capital, this market 
economy is based on just-in-time production and distribution strategies that 
speed up and control the pace of work and life 
T he global disappearance of secure salaried and waged jobs does not mean 
the end of hard labor or tedious, repetitive, manual maintenance work. 
Worldwide, much of the rote maintenance work of keyboarding, data entry 
electronic parts assembly and service labor is still done manually predomi- 
nantly by women. But the spread of automated machinery into the work- 
place and the hidden nature of home work and telework is contributing to 
making women's work and women's laboring bodies invisible again. 
Recently cyberfeminists have begun to meet, both face to face and electron- 
ically to discusswaysof analyzing, revealing, and transforming women'scur- 
rent relationship to IT, as well as ways to intervene in the replication of tra- 
ditional gender structures in electronic culture I will discuss some ways in 
which these concerns relate to women's changing labor conditions world- 
wide, and suggest how the seventies strategies of making maintenance labor 
visible could be adapted by cyberfeminist artists and activists today 


Recently cyberfeminist theorists, activists, and artists have been addressing 
the role of women in the history of computer development, and the con- 
temporary gender constructions embedded in the new technologies I n "T he 
Future Looms," cyberfeminist Sadie Plant exemplifies some of the more 
wildly Utopian claims that have been made for women in technology: "After 
the war games of the 1940s, women and machines escape the simple service 
of man to program their own designs and organize themselves; leaking from 
the reciprocal isolations of homeand office, they melt their networks togeth- 
er in the 1990s" (in L. H ershman, ed.. Clicking in, SF: Bay Press, 1997, 123) 
This free mythical realm— neither home nor workplace— presumably is 
cyberspace, which is imagined as a brave new world for women. Would it 
were so! But alas, research reveals a far more complex situation for most 
women who work in the high-tech industries H ere I will briefly summarize 
the political and economic conditions of contemporary female office and 
home-based teleworkers, and the regressive effects on women's roles in the 
home (and on the home in the market economy) caused by the displacement 
of large numbers of employed women who have been forced back into the 
"informal" (part-time and home work) labor economy by the global restruc- 
turing of work. When large numbers of (mostly white and middle-class) 
women first started entering the wage-labor market, their traditional gender 
roles of maintenance and service were easily translated into the division of 
labor in offices, banks, and many other workplaces Beginning in the late 
1890s, women increasingly became the majority of copy clerks, typists, cal- 
culators, stenographers, switchboard operators, bookkeepers, clerical work- 
ers, filing clerks, banktellers, keypunchers, and data enterers When auto- 
mated office technology was introduced in the seventies, women also became 
the majority of computer users in offices and workplaces Because such a 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 92 

high percentage of employed women (43 percent) are clerical workers, it is 
important to study the effects of the deployment of information technology 
on clerical work. Researchers have noted tlie differences in how women and 
men use computers: "women seemed to have acquired computer skills that 
leave them doing very different jobs than men who use computers" (B. 
Gutek, "Clerical Work and Information Technology" in U. E. Gattiker, 
Women and Technology, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1994, 206). These skills tend to be 
the rote entry filing, and maintenance of data, done in isolation in front of 
a terminal. N o particular new skills or knowledge are needed for this work, 
and most companies never invest in training women clerical workers in more 
advanced computer techniques that would give them a chance to climb the 
internal company job ladders They are condemned both to mental and 
physical repetitive stress syndromes to such a degree that theturnover in cler- 
ical workers is almost 100 percent in many offices. 
I n the nineties, many of these clerical jobs are being replaced by automated 
computers and networks of robotic machines. Secretaries and clerical work- 
ers are the first casualties of the electronic office Lacking advanced skillsand 
knowledge capital, these displaced women workers often have no other 
choice than to resort to low-skilled part-time work, or to home-based tele- 
work. Such "homework" includes different kinds of work ranging from pro- 
fessional telecommuting, entrepreneurial businesses, salaried employment, 
and self-employed freelance work, to (often illegal) garment and needle 
industries, electronic parts assembly and clerical computer work. While for 
some upper-echelon female white-collar workers and professionals telecom- 
muting has become part of their job and enhances their value as employees, 
for the great majority of other casualties of electronic joblessness, the forced 
"choice" of home work is a big step down— measured in terms of wages, 
benefits, and working conditions— even from clerical work in an office, and 
usually amounts to nothing short of the enslaved maintenance work that 
keeps global capital's production lines and databanks speeding along 
0 pportunities are especially bad for women of color and immigrants, who 
tend to be concentrated in jobs most affected by office automation and who 
have the lowest level of skills 

T he political conditions of office and homework in the nineties are restruc- 
turing home and work life in crucial ways, and are producing a worldwide 
labor crisis 

Home work is feminized labor: Feminized homework is a structural feature 
of the contemporary U.S. telework, data-entry and service economies, as 
well as an aspect of the global sweatshop economy (which includes all kinds 
of assembly work), and the computer chip and electronic parts manufactur- 
ing industry "To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able 
to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labor force; seen less 
as workers than as servers; subjected to time arrangements on and off the 
paid job that make a mockery of a limited work day; leading an existence 
that always borders on being obscene, out of place, and reducible to sex" (D. 
Haraway "Cyborg Manifesto," Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, NY: Routledge, 
1985, 166). Work is restructured in a way that downgrades and feminizes pro- 
fessional work, and in turn lowers the pay level and satisfaction of the job. 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 93 

I ronically, much of the automated technology was designed to replace the 
rote maintenance labor— mostly performed by women— in offices and fac- 
tories, and the resultant displacement of women from the public workplace, 
as well as the renewed invisibility of their work, has had the effect of devalu- 
ing women's labor and homemaking services even more, both financially 
and emotionally 

H ome work sustains the gendered division of labor: it is hardly news that 
home-based work in industrialized nations has historically been extremely 
exploitive The global restructuring of work manifests locally and home 
work usefully demonstrates "problems in capital-labor relations and in the 
gendered division of labor" (A. Calabrese, "Home-based Telework," in 
Gattiker, 177). Telework is defined as "work delivered to the worker via 
telecommunications as opposed to the worker going where the work is" 
"H ome-based" telework refers to the individual working in the home, rather 
than in a centralized location. Surveys show that teleworkers are five times 
as likely as other workers to be women and to be working illegally without 
benefits or insurance T here is never time to retrain for higher levels of work, 
or to get the education to participate in the more lucrative work of knowl- 
edge production and management. 

H ome work reinforces women's subordinate status in the home and labor 
markets Despite the much discussed separation of public and private 
spheres, the history of home work clearly shows that public power (capital) 
has been used to structure the private lives and control work opportunities 
for women. Add to this the fact that the new communications technologies 
have opened the home space to the world, and conversely have brought the 
world into the private space of the home, and we get a blurring of bound- 
aries that allows surveillance of the home-based worker and "makes the 
home more accessible to employers, marketers and politicians" (ibid., 163, 
169). Women teleworkers become industrialized women, while women in 
waged jobs become Taylorized homemakers As sociologist A rile H ochschild 
noted: "[people]. ..become their own efficiency experts gearing all the 
momentsand movementsof their lives to the workplace" (T heT imeBind, NY: 
H olt, 1997, 49). For home-based teleworkers there is no distinction between 
home and workplace, with the result that when both personal and worklife 
become Taylorized they have no escape For women who have often been 
forced to "choose" home-based work because of the lack of child-care 
options— a common problem for illegal aliens for example— home-based 
telework therefore amounts to a doubling of their bondage to the home 
space T he blurring of boundaries between private and public in the home- 
space also often places the woman in a doubled psychological subordina- 
tion—to her employers and to her husband. The traditional feminine roles 
of emotional care-giving and physical care-taking become entwined with her 
externally controlled, maintenance telework in the home In the long run, 
female rebellion against these pressures could have the effect of redefining 
the division of male and female labor, and of repositioning the importance 
of home life and private free time within the public economy and social rela- 
tions In the short run, since home life has no recognized public economic 
value, it is being more and more curtailed, automated where possible, and 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 94 

rairganized to serve the needs of paid work; and women who work at home 
have the doubled role of worker and care-givers. 
H ome work undercuts progressive labor conditions and standards: T he geo- 
graphic mobility of capital made possible by IT uses waged labor, which is 
space-bound, with the result that geographical areas are increasingly 
reduced to the status of a captive labor pool. While this makes new modes 
of production (especially home telework) possible, it does not challenge "the 
place of the home in the economy or of women in the home" (Calabrese, 
179). The home space and the female working in it under the sign of 
"choice" actually become the site of regressive labor practices and intrusions 
of outside control made possible by the dissemination and flexibility of the 
very information technology that now immobilizes and isolates the woman 
worker. This isolation also contributes to women's increasing marginalization 
in the computer sciences, and to the stratification of women in the comput- 
er industry between a small percentage of highly skilled engineers, scientists, 
systems analysts, and knowledge workers, on the one hand, and the vast 
numbers of low-paid, low-skilled computer workers, on the other. It is this 
great disparity and its concomitant economic and political consequences 
that cyberfeminists need to study and address 


The political conditions of home-based telework I've outlined pose questions 
about the effects of restructuring work for women in the integrated circuit: 
Will this reorganization of work further stratify jobs by race, ethnicity, and 
gender? Will the changes in work structures "reproduce existing patterns of 
inequality in only slightly changed forms, perhaps leading to different, more 
subtle forms of inequality?" (E. N. Glenn and C. Tolbert II, "Technology 
and Emerging Patterns of Stratification for Women of Color," in B. D. 
Wright, et al., eds. Women, Work, and Technology, Ann Arbor: University of 
M ichigan: 1987, 320). 

What are possible points of intervention, resistance, and/ or activism for 
cyberfeministsand artists (among whom I include myself) working with com- 
puter technology? On the microlevel, it is time to educate ourselves thor- 
oughly about these conditions, and to disseminate this information as wide- 
ly as possible through the different cultural and political venues in which we 
work. We must rethink the contexts in which computers are used, and ques- 
tion the particular needs and relations of women to computer technology 
We must try to understand the mechanisms by which women get allocated 
to lower-paid occupations or industries, and make visible the gender-track- 
ing that obtains in scientific fields of work. For example, many women tend 
not to choose certain fields because of the "male culture" that is associated 
with them. 

Cyberfeminists could use the model of the recent feminist art project 
"I nformationsdienst" to create "Information Works" that address the political 
conditions of telework, and make visible how the deployment of IT is affect- 
ing the restructuring of work and the loss of jobs worldwide in the market 
economy (S. Buchman, "Information Service: Info-Work," Od:ober 71 
[Winter 1995], 103ff). A teleworker's bill of information and rights, dissem- 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 95 

inated to offices and private liomestlirougli a webpageon tlie internet could 
also clarify tlie linl<ed chains of "women's work" and working conditions for 
women worldwide. A "H ome work School" on the internet and in local com- 
munity centers— taught and organized by home working women (many of 
whom are increasingly artists, single mothers, poor urban black women, 
immigrants, and displaced older women)— could offer (free) classes in every- 
thing from the politics of the new global labor economy and its effects on 
women's lives and work, to feminist history to creative and practical lessons 
in upgrading computer skills Wired women need to form new unions that 
bring together women computer engineers, analysts, managers, program- 
mers, clerks, and artists We need to form coalitions with immigrant rights 
groupsthat are interested in computer literacy The classical tactics of organ- 
izing to improve working conditions must be translated into new forms that 
take into account the decentralization and reprivatization of workers, and 
subvert the already-established communication chains of IT to reach and 
organize the people displaced by it. The creative ideas of cyberfeminist 
artists experienced in computer networking could be especially useful here. 
0 n the macrolevel, cyberfeminists need to initiate a visible resistance to the 
politically regressive consequences of relegating women back to the home 
work economy and imposing on them the privatized, invisible, double bur- 
den of labor. M any libertarians economists, and labor leaders are address- 
ing the social isolation and economic privation suffered by millions of casu- 
alties of electronic joblessness by calling for the creation of socially produc- 
tive jobs with a guaranteed annual income (or a social wage) for workers dis- 
placed by automation. T h^ are also supporting moves for a shorter work- 
week, for job sharing, for more equal distribution of knowledge and mainte- 
nance work, and calling for corporations that benefit from the global market 
economy made possible by IT to return some of this great wealth to support 
a Third Sector of social and community work. While many of these 
demands seem desirable steps toward a more equitable labor economy in 
practice they amount to a social welfare tax and do nothing to challenge the 
intense stratification and concentration of wealth and power that is increas- 
ingly produced by the global market economy with devastating effects on 
already marginalized, impoverished, and invisible populations including 
women. Cyberfeminists need to analyze the effects such schemes might per- 
petuate on the gender division of labor. Will women continue to be concen- 
trated in the low-paying "caring" and social-maintenance jobs that double 
and extend their housekeeping "skills" to the whole community? 0 r will we 
fightto have such socially productive work be revalued by awarding it decent 
salaries benefits and job security? Such work should be acknowledged as 
vital to the survival of human life and should be highly rewarded— not just 
monetarily but also by granting workers the greatest autonomy in planning 
and structuring the work, by having them determine working conditions, 
pay benefits, and hours Above all, we must rejoin the fight that was never 
won: the revaluing— by way of decent wages benefits and improved labor 
conditions— of the human work of child-raising and family care-giving that 
isvital to the productive lives of all human beings If such maintenance work 
were liberally rewarded, and balanced with adequate free time and educa- 

tional and social opportunities, it would be worl< attractive to both men and 
women, and could do much to substantially change traditional domestic— 
and paid labor— gender roles 

Given the groundbreaking changes IT is causing in the relationship of home 
to work, and in the place of the home (and private life) in pan-capitalist 
economies, some radical rethinking must take place about women's chang- 
ing conditions both in the domestic sphere and in the public economy. T he 
suggestion that the home should again become a locale of resistance to cap- 
italism's predatory effects on privacy sociality, and free time may be a regres- 
sive one for women, because it treatsthese problems as private ones with pri- 
vate solutions The Utopian promises claimed for IT — for example, the pos- 
sibility of being freed from never-ending repetitive work and heavy manual 
labor; the drastic reduction of working time for all people and the concomi- 
tant expansion of self-managed free time— must be skeptically countered 
with a critique of the ways in which IT has actually increased work time and 
has eroded aspects of the pleasure and meaning to be found in work— such 
as sociability worker solidarity job security and pride in skills T his critique 
should be combined with vocal opposition to and denunciation of the rein- 
troduction of regressive labor conditions and policies for workers worldwide. 
1 1 is crucial that we address the human sacrifice that the worldwide prolifer- 
ation of home-based telework and sweatshop labor causes for millions, pre- 
dominantly women. T he wide social indifference to such vast inequities once 
again renders invisible the life-sustaining unpaid or underpaid maintenance 
work performed by women. 


DATE: SUN, 30 AUG 1998 18:06:24 +0200 

Life gets more mobile. T he net is fulfilling its predicted function as a software 
provider and distributor. People don't need laptops, since there are connect- 
ed computers everywhere— at festivals, at your friend's place, in the cafe. 
With basic knowledge, any of these terminals can be used to check your 
mail, communicate, research, or plan the next leg of the journey Even 
Berlin's high-end department store, the KaDeWe, has a Cybercafe. 
Email is free these days via ad-driven storage sites, their pages generated on 
user request. In the web's commercial construction, text has no value. Unless 
it's somehow personal, everybody ignores text, so it's useless as a brand mes- 
sage conduit. T hus email— pure text— might as well be free. T hey can serve 
visuals with it. I mage is valuable. I mage provides a chance at attention, and 
attention is the currency of the network age. 

T he power of image on the net is directly measurable. Porno sites have fig- 
ured out microtransactions, the H oly G rail of net.commerce. Q uite simple, 
really; all they have to do is count. H ow much is an image display worth? 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 97 

Maybe one hundredth of a cent, maybe a tenth. Cookies have become 
crumb counters. Thus you find free porno sites where the owner states, 
"Please visit my sponsors, they mal<e this site possible" Already making frac- 
tions by the ad displays, passing a user through to a sponsor, fostering a 
click— attention— is worth a lot more, and these attention units are eagerly 
tracked and reimbursed by destination sites T he system works, because they 
pay for precisely what they get. C licks and hits add up to cold hard cash. 0 r 
soft liquid credit. 

Transactions are moving to an abstract sphere There's something about 
ecash that makes it separate Even though you know that, say a phone card 
costs so much, once it's electronic, cash is something else. It's been removed 
from the physical world. For example, a few days back I was in 0 snabriick: 
it was 11:30 at night, and two friends and I were trying to find a hotel. T he 
city was busy with a festival, so we thought the smart idea was to call hotels 
until we found a vacancy We all had mobile phones, but we went to check a 
telephone book in a booth. Anna looked up hotels, then pulled out her 
mobile. Max interrupted, "Save your bill, here's a phone card." "OK, 
thanks" But it wasn't a card phone She grabbed her mobile, and made the 
call. Afterward, I said, "You know, we all have coins in our pockets" We 
looked at each other, and laughed. 

Somehow, feeding coins into a metal machine doesn't seem like a communi- 
cation method these days Communication is paid for in units of time— of 
attention— and stamped metal discsarefor more mundane things, like some- 
thing to drink. 

At lunch in Berlin, somebody asked, "Do you think working on a computer 
is dangerous?" It certainly won't be. Computers are going to disappear, fold 
into the fabric of life— as in Xerox Fare's idea of U biquitous Computing 
After all, a computer isjust a chip, and a chip can be— will be— in anything 
controllable Display can have any number of forms So it might be that 
when you have a message, in whatever medium, it shows up by multiple 
means A blinking icon on the microwave, an indicator on the TV, a beep 
from thebodyware Yesterday I sent an email from my mobile phone It's not 
exactly a keyboard, but all I wanted to say was "T hanl<s." (Well, there was an 
ulterior motive. This friend of mine needs a mobile, and doesn't— yet— 
admit it.) H e has one of the most distributed lives I know of. 
It's really an issue of convenience M ake something that saves people time- 
giving them moreopportunity to focus theirattention— and it'll beasuccesa 
People want to customize their lives I want to be able to make a call, now, 
without having to relocate my body But I don't want to be interrupted, so 
you get my voice mail. I'll be notified instantly; and I'll retrieve the message, 
when it's convenient. As will you. 


DATE: TUE 6 OCT 1998 08:51:43 +1000 

<<you're invading my computer>> 

Tlie day I began my artist residency at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research 
C enter), X erox sacked 10 percent of its workers worldwide. "Is the compa- 
ny not doing too well financially?" I asked my group leader. I was told Xerox 
was doing better than ever.. .actually the corporation has a turnover bigger 
than the whole US entertainment industry U.S. companies just seem to be 
in the grip of downsizing fever at present... they say it's an efficiency thing.. .it 
also makes them look tough, and the shareholders love that. 

<<my flatmate is trying to get rid of me» 

Palo Alto boasts some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, but I 
was staying in a cheap and cheesy motel at the trashy end, just over the road 
from the trailer park.. .still expensive for me, since the Australian dollar is 
worth about a piece of string at present. I have a website 
(<http;//>) where people anonymously send me their para- 
noid thoughts. .the paranoia was steadily coming in when I was living in 
Silicon Valley. 

<<my computer is talking about me>> 

Tech culture and car culture rule in the valley and walking to PARC along 
Page M ill then M ountain View, past the slick corporate buildings surround- 
ed by manicured lawns and hedges, the semiotic messages were obvious I 
disliked especially the corporations that forced me to walk on the 
road. ..walking on wet lawns was no fun, but it was better than being hit by 
some young software designer in their new silver Pontiac. 

We take pride in our peopie and care 
about theirweli-being. Ourskiiis and 
competence are second to none. 
Our adaptabiiity and diversity ailow 
us to excel in many different envi- 
ronments and to meet a wide variety 
of chiaiienges in a rapidiy chianging 
worid. Our forward-thinking, innova- 
tiveness, and wiiiingness to take 
risks keep us at the forefront of our 

We give our members the decisive 
edge by providing vitai information. 
We are the worid 's best. We provide 
inteiligent information derived from 
information systems of our adver- 
saries. We work with our members 
to gain a better understanding of 
their information requirements, and 
then provide them the best possible 
lectures, music and services. 

The foundation that can observe 
what is happening, orient itseif to 
understand the reai dynamics of a 
situation, decide what to do, and 
then act on that decision quicker 
than an adversary gains the informa- 
tion advantage. We wiii provide our 
members the decisive information 
advantage by providing their vital 

«why do they all hate me?» 

"So you've gone to work for Big Daddy M ainframe?" my daughter said to 
me on the phone. I replied no, I'm a spy infiltrating the databanks of 
BDM ...Remember the cyberfeminist manifesto?. ..yeah, whatever. Corporate 
artists have to sign NDAs (Nondisclosure Agreements) as soon as we walk 
through PARC 's doors, so conversations at Silicon Valley parties often went 
something like: W hat do you do?... I work at I nterval, but I 'm not allowed to 
tell you what I'm working on, how about you?... I work at PARC. ..can't tell 
you either.... N ice weather we're having". ..etc. 

<<my dead grandma sees me masturbating>> 

Invitation to typical Silicon Valley party: "Gathering of the Tribe... This 
Saturday yes another holiday has arrived. ..Time for Halloween in Spring, 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 1 99 

Come as the new you. .shedding all old beliefs, judgments, and commitments 
that no longer serve you... releasing the true you. 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. 
Sunday Celebrating the Mystery of Life... Food, song, and dancing all 
night... Dancing floor addition by the roaring fire. Smoking room Upstairs 
on an upper balcony, Hot tubbing not to be forgotten." 

<<the whole room is looking at me>> 

PARC is famous for it's "ubiquitous computing" research, and I was hoping 
to be electronically tagged along with the best of them— but it seems the big 
brother implications have put the researchers working at PARC off using the 
technology T he only manifestation of "ubicom" I saw was a hallway foun- 
tain whose rate of water flow indicated whether Xerox shares were up or 
down. "Augmented reality" is the buzzword in computer-interface research 
these days 

«they are reading my mail...i know they are>> 
Silicon Vall^ is saturated with stories of startups making their fortunes- 
gold rush mentality— but without the wild abandon of the west. PARC won't 
even allow alcohol on the premises, and it's not PC to flirt. But it's a great 
place for bright young geeky smart things It is assumed by most that tech- 
nology will save the planet, that the valley is Utopia, and if the rest of the 
world become good capitalists and embrace the new technology-enhanced 
lifestyle they can reach Utopia also. Even the homeless in Palo Alto push hi- 
tech baby trolleys and wear discarded G ortex. 

<<i'm not wearing clean underwear>> 

Sol roamed the empty corridors of PARC at night, feeling like the guy from 
the movie Solaris I was working with these images of deformed foetuses in 
jars I 'd illicitly shot in a medical museum in Berlin, making large color prints 
wondering if my obsession with these little mutants had anything to do with 
the scary feelings I got passing by the many biotech corporation buildings 
every day If I wanted to stay overnight at PARC, I could haul a few of the 
ubiquitous blue corduroy beanbags into my office to make a bed. Very cosy 
in a seventies sort of way 

<<my neighbor is psychic» 

PARC is known for the ones that got away: the mouse and graphical user 
interface were developed there, butX erox never got a financial piece of that. 
This might explain the rigorous patent— charge— sue mentality there 
today.. I never came up with an idea that was worth patenting. 

«everybody is sucking on my intellect>> 



DATE: WED, 28 OCT 1998 04:01:37 +0200 

According to the definition given by Sergio Bologna, "second-generation 
independent worl<" isn't just specific to Italy. It pertains in different degrees 
to many Western and former-Socialist countries In Italy however, particu- 
larly in the last two decades, this phenomena has reached considerable pro- 
portions, immediately reaching the status of "the explanation" for the suc- 
cess of industrial manufacturing areas such as the Veneto northeast and 

But what exactly is independent work composed of? T he fundamentally dif- 
ferentiating element from wage labor is the amount of relational and com- 
municative operations required. H ow many working hours in the day of an 
independent worker are dedicated to "keeping in touch with working rela- 
tions and partners"? M any express the high incidence of the relational work 
quota on the total amount of hours worked with the phrase "I spend a lot of 
time on the phone" (S. Bologna, "Died tesi sul lavoro autonomo," in 
Bologna and A. Fumagalli, II Lavoro autonomo di seconda generazlone, Milan: 
Feltrinelli Interzone, 1997). Moreover, in independent work one witnesses a 
process of domestification of the workplace, meaning with this term the 
absorption of work into the system of private life, even if the two spaces- 
living and working— remain, at least formally distinct and separate. Another 
new and extraordinary element is the different perception of time: while for 
the wage worker, working hours are a rigidly defined and normalized dimen- 
sion, the self-employed worker deals with working hours without rules, which 
are therefore limitless A situation has thus ensued in which, contrary to the 
historical aspirations of the organized workers' movement, working hours 
have gotten progressively longer, to finally occupy the entire span of the day 
The spur toward the intensification of the workday exists in the form of 
financial retribution— now detached from the time-unit (day month) dur- 
ing which the worker rented her or his availability— anchored to a work 
performance in which the only important thing is meeting the deadline 
fixed by the client. All these elements involve a general modification, not 
just of work, but also of anthropological habits and future expectations It's 
with good reason that Bologna speaks about the "immanent risk of failure" 
as a constitutive element of independent work, and about the coming into 
being of a "psychosocial frame of mind incapable of long-term planning" 
(ibid.). "All it takes is an illness, an accident forcing one into a six-months 
period of inactivity, an unpaid invoice of a certain level, a heavy damage- 
claim lawsuit issued by a client, bankruptcy, malicious or not, of a cus- 
tomer or a supplier to invoke total ruin on oneself and one's own partners 
and collaborators" (ibid.). 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 201 

If at first you don't succeed, destroy 
all evidence that you tried. 

He who hesitates is probably right. 

To steal ideas from one person is 
plagiarism: to steal from many is 

The sooner you fall behind, the more 
time you'll have to catch up. 

Half the people you know are below 
average; 99 percent of lawyers give 
the rest a bad name. 

A psycho-social frame of mind is tlius produced to mal<e constant "insurance 
savings": beliavioral forms tliat protect oneself from the uncertainties pro- 
duced by a precariousand foreboding future. T he problem of describing this 
new social subject is also linked to aspects more properly identifiable with 
political theory "Dispersed around the territory autonomous worl<ers don't 
appear to have a sociotechnical locus capable of collective action. Lacking 
any kind of collective compensation or possibility of direct response against 
the client, they have in fact exited the secular history of labor conflicts and 
the system of acquired rights built upon the legitimacy of those very con- 
flicts.. While wage labor had the possibility of holding the employer respon- 
sible for respecting contractual clauses and terms of agreement through the 
tools of conflict and negotiation, that is, with tools proper to a civilized soci- 
ety in the case of such violations the independent worker can only enforce 
the client's contract through the actions of a judge" (ibid.). 
We're dealing here with a total loss of democracy that will see, in the imme- 
diate future, the nonaccordance of citizenship rights granted during the 
Fordist-Taylorist era to a wide percentage of the employed. 
Facing this difficulty, some ad hoc solutions seem to appear. 0 n the one side, 
the use of mutual aid associations, in an analogous fashion to those in the 
initial phases of the history of the workers' movement. On the other, a 
reconfiguration of the tasks concerning territorially based organizations of 
bilateral representation, such as unions 

According to other commentators, coming from the institutional Left, the 
culture and ideology required by the new productive transformations entail 
a new type of work: "Not just thought as goods, but goodsthat must think." 
(Bruno Trentin, La Sinistra ela crisi del fordismo, M ilan: Feltrinelli). This is a 
type of worker that will have previously unseen features and whose appear- 
ance leads to diverse reactions, both on the employers' side and on that of 
the leadership of the Left. 0 n the one hand, the employers immediately see 
the possibility of getting rid of the trade unions during the contractual 
negotiations, in order to establish a direct relation with the single employ- 
ee; on the other, the unions too will have trouble relating to it. T heir strat- 
egy has in fact always hinged on requests for better wages and not on 
demands that would radically mutate living conditions and the meaning of 
work itself. 

In reality it's simply the "intelligent" post-Fordist worker who owns the 
dialectical tools to question issues of work organisation, of distribution and 
the management of know-how. 


Beyond the interpretative difficulties of the phenomena, it is possible to 
locate the historical origins and structural motivations that have pushed 
manufacturing sectors in this direction in Italy M ost commentators general- 
ly emphasize that this process originated at the end of the seventies, follow- 
ing three different causes 

a. the structural necessity for a modification of wori< relations. 

At the end of the seventies, Italian capitalism found itself in a position of 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 202 

great structural difficulty. 0 n the one side, the workers' resistance that for a 
decade or so had efficiently contradicted every plan of capitalist domination; 
on the other, the end of the possibility of certain forms of financial media- 
tion (primarily of the inflation tool, thanl<sto which Italian capitalism had 
extended its presence on the international markets) following the entrance of 
Italy to the European Common M arket, which limited the oscillation of the 
Lira's exchange rates within a maximum range of 4.5 percent. 
T he end of the financial use of inflation induced large-scale Italian capital 
to make a double choice. In the first place, to raise on the international mar- 
kets the liquidity necessary to change the work process (in this regard it's suf- 
ficient to think about the buyout of almost a third of the Fiat stock made by 
Libya during 1976-78). On the other, the frontal challenge to the central 
body of the working class, having exhausted the classical environments of 
union mediation. (0 n this regard, the case of Fiat is again useful: the firm 
laid off 23,000 workers at the beginning of the eighties). 

b. the "refusal of work" 

The attack on employees utilized a wide array of different tools First, by 
stimulating and incentivising individual resignation, facilitated with impres- 
sively golden "handshakes" (£ 15,000-20,000 sterling at the time). Second, 
by applying pressure to the State so that segments of the very same working 
class being fired would be reabsorbed by civil service jobs T bird, by favor- 
ing a more complex process of externalizing work (spinoffs), through the 
promise of "safe" contracts to workers who agree to resign. In many cases, 
this involved offering them the cash to buy the machinery necessary to start 
new activities (a famous case from the beginning of the eighties is that of the 
C N C lathes for the industrial sector in the province of Brescia). 
T his last aspect of the process echoed a deeper dynamic experienced by the 
world of work throughout the seventies— a wide and internalized "refusal of 
work" and of the spatiotemporal rigidities inherent in wage labor (punching 
the clock, always the same schedule, the impossibility of staying up late at 
night, regulation of the spaces for conviviality during the work process, con- 
trol of "bodily necessities," boredom and repetition), which had found its 
highest conflictual expression in the great cycle of workers' struggles 
between 1969 and 1975. Basically the "exit the factory" program was 
embraced precisely by the more politically aware component of the working 
class, that which had made the "refusal of work" its flag The process of 
externalization from the factory didn't solely orient itself toward industrial- 
type activities (which really only reconfigured the same subordinate situa- 
tions of the previous factory job, but localized them in a different manner). 
Another part of the expelled subjects, almost as numerous as the former, 
recycled themselves into activities that interpret and cater to the popular 
desire for a diffused conviviality— so that in rapid succession venues, bars* 
pubs, small "fashionable" restaurants were opened... While a third compo- 
nent, namely that endowed with better cultural instruments, better educa- 
tion, and higher professional skills, directed their job hunt toward the 
ascending cycle in fashion and advertising/ communication (this was also the 
early period of "free radio" and commercial "private" TV channels). 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 203 

From the opposite viewpoint, tliat of tlie worl<ers' subjectivity, we musttliere- 
fore note liow tlie question of "relational knowledge," the art of "making 
communication," of "threading human relations and networks" was at the 
core of these "new" jobs These were all skillsthat these subjectshad learned 
and honed during the years of the great protest. This way— alas, through 
crooked paths— language made its appearance at the center stage of the 
industrial-political debate. Its weight would increase throughout the eighties 
and grow further in this current decade, 

c. "Total Quality" and the use of informatics 

The third element that has intervened in the genesis of the "post-Fordist 
cycle" is surely to be traced to the use of informatics I nformatics has been 
employed in a manner analogous to that of many other industrialized coun- 
tries, both in product innovation and process innovation. T he latter espe- 
cially has stimulated great interest in the circles of "work scholars" 
From this point of view, a visit to a big factory of today is certainly an impressive 
experience: the warehousing space for components (industrial and general pur- 
pose) are reduced to a bare minimum. A II this is managed through a coordinat- 
ed delivery of parts and components to the assembly line of the factory The gate 
of the factory becomes a key part of the "streamlined," "downsized" factory 
W ith their optical pens checking the entry and exit of goodSy the personnel at the 
gates of the factory are also performing the first of many quality checks on the 
products that will shortly thereafter be assembled. The parts are randomly 
checked by appointed controllers and are then routed toward their specific 
assembly units T he majority of these parts don't spend more than a day or two 
on the shelves of the warehouses T he G eneral M otors philosophy of manufac- 
turing every single nut and bolt used in the factory appears decidedly antiquat- 
ed. Today a Fiat automobile is on average composed of about 5,000 different 
parts, two thirds of which are produced by Turinese subcontractors and the 
remaining third by other firms all over the world. In the light of this transport 
and logistics in general grow to a strategic dimension. N owadays in engineering 
there is a great interest in these fields If the gate becomes a strategic place in the 
factory even— contrary to the past— the first station in the assembly of the 
goods the key locus is in logistics fully completing the process of disempower- 
ment and appropriation of the working-class knowledge of the work processes^ 
that was started with Taylor's first studies T he use of networks becomes foun- 
dational to setting the pace of work, to the definition of quality standards for 
components and to the promotion and the distribution of the goods manufac- 
tured. T he circle closes with automatic invoicing 

The use of informatics at the industrial level in Italy has therefore had its 
special role in the innovation of the production process itself. It has thus 
played midwife to the birth of real subregional "industrial districts" that spe- 
cialize in manufacturing a single commodity, where these forms of industri- 
al and process innovation are introduced and shared at a localized level. 


All of this has then sedimented into the development of a diffuse "pulviscu- 
lar" fabric made of very small enterprises (5-6 staff each, with average rev- 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 204 

enuesof around £150.000-200.000 sterling) closely linked to other, bigger, 
firms, managing their worl< schedule, according to seasonal considerations 
and market demand, and on which they usually depend for a one-to-one 
relationship. T here are some Italian industrial districts where there is a pres- 
ence of one individual firm per every seven inhabitants (children and pen- 
sioners included). 

It is sufficient to think of the Veneto region and the textile industry in the 
Treviso province (Benetton, Diesel), or of the optical industry in the Belluno 
area (Luxottica)— or, alternatively to read the statistics relative to the per- 
capita income, indicating the richest area in Europe in that surrounding the 
city of M ilan. 

We're talking about firms in which it is completely "unsurprising" to work on 
Sundays, at nights, and way beyond normal working hours in order to keep 
up with the workload; with a strong relationship of solidarity between boss 
and workforce (hence the nosedive drop in workplace conflict in I taly and the 
birth of regionalistic parties such as the Lega Lombarda); and in which one 
sees a constant exchange of necessary know-how in the effort to obtain a 
quality finished product. T he end result of such a process, in which a central 
aspect is played by the employment of relational abilities, and thus of the 
sphere of language in its wider definition, is to define a productive system in 
which the rigidities of the earlier work cycle— characterized as it was by the 
functional sectorialization of roles, knowledge and of the language— can no 
longer exist (C. M arazzi, II Posto dei calzini, Bellinzona: Casagrande). 

T he fact that language has been increasingly subsumed into the productive 
sphere has made possible a lively interest toward all those theories that, in 
various shapes and forms, dedicate attention to the emergence of a collec- 
tive sphere of intellect. Pierre Levy a French philosopher, has devoted a 
stimulating and thought-provoking text to this theme, though this is articu- 
lated more around philosophical speculation on the phenomenon of the 
internet (and its medieval Arabic neoplatonic roots) than toward the indi- 
viduation of collective dynamics in networked employment. M oreover, this 
phenomena is developed and intensified by software, such as groupware, 
capable of optimizing work and communication processes Even more sur- 
prisingly some of the M arxian formulations expressed in that giant toolshed 
known as the G rundrisse, are experiencing a renewal. 


And what supports Marx in his passages concerning science and 
machines? A very un-M arxist thesis, namely that "abstract knowledge"— 
particularly but not exclusively scientific— is beginning to become— by 
virtue of its autonomy from production— nothing less than the chief pro- 
ductive force, relegating repetitive and parcelized work to a residual posi- 
tion (P. Virno, "Edizione semicritica di un classico frammento," in Luogo 
Comune 1 [Rome]). 

T he difference between theGrundrisse's "fragment on the machines" and Das 
Kapital lies in this: "Now comes to the forefront the lacerating contradiction 
between a productive process that nowadays leverages directly and exclu- 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 205 

sively upon science and a unit of measuring material wealtli still coincident 
with the quantity of worl< incorporated by the products" (ibid., 11). T his is a 
contradiction that, according to M arx, should lead to the "crash of a pro- 
duction-based on exchange value." And if M arx, in the final pages of the 
fragment, gives a glimpse of the birth of a worker of such a kind, a whole 
individual, without amputations, we cannot but agree with what Paolo V irno 
notices: it is exactly this new subjectivity that is currently employed in the 
post-Fordist process. "What one learns, experiences, and consumes during 
the time of nonwork later gets reutilized in the production of goods, gets 
included in the use-value of the workforce." 

Even the other aspect of the critique issuing from Virno appears appropri- 
ate: "M arx has, without residual doubts, identified general intellect (that is 
knowledge as production force) with fixed capital, and therefore neglects the 
side by which general intellect presents itself as living work, technical-scien- 
tific intelligence, mass intellectuality" (ibid., 12). "Today it isn't hard to widen 
the notion of general intellect well beyond the knowledge that materializes 
itself infixed capital, including as well the forms of knowledge that structure 
social communication and dynamize the activity of mass intellectual work," 
because within the contemporary work processes, "there exist entire constel- 
lations of concepts functioning as productive machines per se" (ibid., 13). 


When M arx says that science is incorporated by fixed capital, he is arguing 
that the conditions of the scientific process— so far as these have made them- 
selves known from the end of the seventeenth century— are impossible today 
Science is irremediably turning into technology because it mutates its nature 
into a series of procedures that will then be applied to industrial processes of 

Beyond the possible critical notes that could be raised over the question, it is 
indubitable that M arx understands a process in action, by which the issue of 
scientific and technological innovation remains unanalyzed, out of focus 
And in the concept of general intellect we must include the innovation 
aspect, the creative and unforeseeable aspect of the science factor today If 
it'struethat innovation also tends to transform itself into a useful mechanism 
for the accumulation of profits, it is also true that the diffuse and creative 
process of innovation isn't always so directly mechanistic. T here are impor- 
tant examples in the history of technological innovation debunking this state- 
ment. Without wanting to refer to the history of the Bauhaus it's sufficient 
to think back to the birth of the personal computer: born from the collective 
passion of enthusiasts and social experimenters, the PC, prior to becoming 
an extraordinary technological artefact, is a ra/olutionary mental archdype. 
T he emergence of a collective dimension of intellect should therefore orient 
itself toward a collective-projectual direction capable of imprinting definite 
turning points in the way people think. In this sense, technological innova- 
tion represents at best the factor of unpredictability within a social process 
that some would like characterized by a causal linearity. Of course, this isn't 
enough to alter or change the social game. 0 ther stimuli apart from innova- 
tion are necessary and, not by accident, the Californian garages that pro- 

NEniM E / WORK / PAGE 206 

duced the PC had some sorts of direct filiation to the countercultures of the 
sixties I n other respects too, the use of the net can represent a good catalyst 
for the emergence of new mental archetypes 

It's definitely uncommon to get one dealt, but sometimes a joker from the 
deck can totally alter the destiny of the game. T herefore we must try and get 
at least two jokers available for our game— and then turn them into three 
and four. Innovation is definitely one of these "trump cards" We still have 
to invent the others 

[Translated from Italian by Syd "I was a junkie stagehand" M igx.] 





DATE: MON, 24 AUG 1998 14:53:27 +0200 

W F : Your work and thought has always centered around a problematic and 
complex notion of territory within data space and electronic networks, 
which you have variously described as spaces of action or events— concepts 
which have also been used to describe the fluctuating political, social, cul- 
tural realities of the city in contrast to its spatial organization. To which 
extent is your recent interest in urbanity related to fundamental qualitative 
similarities between the spaces opened by electronic networks and those tra- 
ditionally supported by and created within the architectures of the city? 

K R : 0 ur discourse places itself outside an architectural framework. W hen 
we talk about problems of urban spaces, we mean the urban as a machinic 
assemblage that is constituted not so much by built forms and infrastructures, 
but as a heterogeneous field that is constituted by lines of forces, by lines of 
action and interaction. 

These lines form the coordinates of an urban topology that is not based 
mainly on the human body and its movements in space, but on relational 
acts and events within the urban machine. T hese can be economic, political, 
technological, or tectonic processes, as well as acts of communication and 
articulation, or symbolic and expressive acts The urban field that we are 
talking about is therefore quite different from the physically defined spaces 
of events and movements Rather, we are interested in what the relation 
between the spaces of movement, the spaces of events and the relational, 
machinic "spaces" might be. It does not really make sense to oppose the city 
and the networks in the suggested way We are interested in finding models 
of agency for and in complex dynamic systems and approach the urban as 
such a complex system. We understand the city not as a representation of the 
urban forces, but as the interface to these urban forces and processes 
T herefore, the city features not as a representation, but as an interface that 
has to be made and remade all the time. 

WF: Could you elaborate on what Knowbotic Research calls "connective 
interfaces" and describe their difference to the failed urban participatory 
models of the seventies? 

K R: It is characteristic of the forms of agency that evolve in networked envi- 
ronments that they are neither individualistic nor collective, but rather con- 
nective. W hile individualistic and collective diagrams assume a single vector, 


a single will that guides the trajectory of tlie action, the connective dia- 
gram is mapped onto a maciiinic assemblage. Wiiereas the collective is 
ideally determined by an intentional and empathetic relation between 
actors, the connective is an assemblage that rests on any kind of machinic 
relation and is therefore more versatile, more open, and based on the het- 
erogeneity of its members. 

T he distortions are not generated by the networks, but they can be given a 
certain presence and an effective form in the interface, without necessarily 
becoming visible T he complex working conditions like those in the IO_den- 
cies experiment in Sao Paulo create multiple irritations between the partici- 
pating local urbanistsand the producing institutions, the programmers, the 
hard- and software, misunderstandings, and wrong expectations T hese dis- 
tortions are present in the project without causing it to fail. 0 n the contrary, 
they generate new developments It is vital to become sensitive to the weak- 
ness of interfaces and to the potential forcesthatthey bear. One aim is to rec- 
ognize them and to turn them into tendential forces (1 0_dencies) that may 
become effective sooner or later. 

D rawing on Felix G uattari's notion of the machinic, we describe the inter- 
face as a machine in a complex aggregate of other machines Connectivity 
can, in this context, mean different things: the combination of functionali- 
ties; the collapse and opening up out of a moment of conflict or rupture; or 
diversion and repulsion where no interaction can take place. What we are 
surprised about ourselves is this new, differentiated vocabulary that is 
emerging in relation to working with electronic networks: the interfaces ties 
together, folds, collapses, repulses, extinguishes, weaves, knots All these 
activities, which are obviously not germane to our projects, make it neces- 
sary to rethink "networking" as a multifunctional, highly differentiated set 
of possible actions 

WF: In a passionate defense of the physical city, the British geographer and 
urbanistKevin Robins has recently criticized current celebrations of cyberci- 
ties and virtual communities (for example, William Mitchell's City of Bits 
[1997]) as conforming strikingly with Modernist notions of urbanism, in 
being driven "by a desire to achieve detachment and distance from the con- 
fusing reality of the urban scene." Although your interest lies with creating 
intermediary fields or interfaces between those two realms rather than in 
playing off one against the other, you clearly claim urban qualities for the 
spaces you create, by describing them as comparable with the "urban struc- 
tures of megapoles" Could you elaborate on your sense of the urban and 
how it relates to that found in the countless digital cities? 

K R : 0 ur projects respond to one dominant mode of the urban, that is, its 
overwhelming, unbounded, uncontrollable experiential qualities In this 
sense, we agree with R obi ns's observation about the "confusing reality of the 
urban scene," in this sense, we also agree with his criticism of digital cities 
and virtual communities H owever, we are doubtful that this chaotic and dis- 
orderly nature of the urban is necessarily dependent on "embodied and local 
situated presence" 


We must distinguish between tfie urban as a discontinuous flow, a transfor- 
mation process involving social, economic, architectural, and so on, forces, 
and the city as a temporary, diagrammatic manifestation of the urban. The 
French urbanist H enri Lefebrve wrote in 1970 that the urban as such is not 
yet a completed reality but it is a potentiality, an "enlightening virtuality." 
T he path of urbanization, however, is not unidirectional and does not nec- 
essarily lead to a transglobal urban zone Rather, the urban is a complex, 
multidirectional process of connection and separation, of layering, enmesh- 
ing and cutting, which leads to ever-different formations 
The heterogeneous and permutating assemblage of materials, machines, 
and practices we call the urban implies a global stratum that is locally embed- 
ded. If the urban is something that one can work with, intervene into, or 
become a part of, then it is important to understand its forces and layers and 
also to understand how it interlaces the global with the local. 

WF: Before engaging with the complex of the local-global relationship, can 
you specify your concept of an urban machinic and explain what kind of 
machinic agencies K nowbotic Research is aiming at? 

K R : T he urban is a machine that connects and disconnects, articulates and 
disarticulates, frames and releases It offers the impression that it can be 
channeled and controlled, that it can be ordered and structured. T he city is 
always an attempt at realizing this order which, however, is nothing but a 
temporary manifestations of the urban. 

T he machinic urban is always productive, as against the "antiproduction" of 
a fixed city structure But its productivity lies in the creations of discontinu- 
ities and disruptions, it dislodges a given order and runs against routines and 
expectations. T he urban appears in a mode of immediacy and incidentally, 
confronting a structure with other potentialities and questioning its given 
shape We can clearly observe this tension between the urban and the city 
wherever the city appears dysfunctional and unproductive. But the urban 
machine is also productive at invisible levels, for example, where real-estate 
speculations are prepared that will disrupt an area within the city, or where 
a natural catastrophe or political instabilities will cause a rapid influx of large 
numbers of people I n these cases, the "finance machine" and the "tectonic 
machine" impact on a local urban situation. 

The human inhabitants of cities are not the victims of such machinic 
processes, but they form part of them and follow, enhance, or divert given 
urban flows and forces Contemporary analytical methods of the urban 
environment no longer distinguish between buildings, traffic, and social 
functions, but describe the urban as a continuously intersecting, n-dimen- 
sional field of forces: buildings are flowing, traffic has a transmutating 
shape, social functions form a multilayered network. The individual and 
social groups are co-determining factors within these formations of dis- 
tributed power 

T he machinic character of the urban means that there are multiple modes 
of intervention, action, and production in the urban formation. T he relation 
between space and action is of crucial importance There seems to be a 


The E.U. commissioners tiave 
announced that agreement has 
been reached to adopt English as 
the preferred language for European 
communications, rather than 
German, which was the other possi- 
biiity. As part of the negotiations, the 
British government conceded that 
Engiish had some room for improve- 
ment, and has accepted a five-year 
phased-in plan for what will be 
known as EuroEnglish (Euro for 
short). In the first year "s" will be 
used instead of the soft "c". 
Sertainly, sivii servants wiii reseive 
this news with joy. Also, the hard "c" 
will be replaced with "k", not only 
will this l<lear up any konfusion, but 
typewriters kan have one less letter 
There will be growing pubiik enthusi- 
asm in the sekond year, when the 
troublesome "ph" wiii be replaced 
with "f . This will make words like 
"fotograf" 20 persent shorter. In the 
third year pubiik akseptanse of the 
new spelling kan be expekted to 
reach the stage where more komp- 
iikated changes are possible. 
Governments wiii enkourage the 
removal of double letters, which 
have always been a deferent to aku- 
rate speling. Also al wil agre that the 
horible mes of the silent "e" in the 
languag is disgrasful, and that would 
go. By the fourth year, people wil be 
reseptiv to steps such as replasing 
"th" by "z" and "w" by "v". During ze 
fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be 
droped from vords kontaining "ou", 
and similar changes vud of kors be 
be apiid to ozer kombinations of 
leters. After ze fifz yer, ve vii hav a 
sensibi riten styi. Zer vii be no mor 
trubis or difikultis, and evrivun vii 
find it ezi to understand ech ozr Ze 
drem vii finali kum trull! [T. Byfield 
<>. Toward A 
Europanto: A Five-year Plan (A 
Found Text[Extropians]), Mon, 2 Mar 
1998 19:20:18 4O100] 

reluctance on the part of many architects and urban planners to consider 
"action" as a relevant category. Rather, built spaces are much more closely 
identified with, and it seems, made for, certain types of behavior. The dis- 
tinction between behavior and action is a significant one, behavior being 
guided by a set of given habits, rules, directives, and channels, while action 
denotes a more unchanneled and singular form of moving in and engaging 
with a given environment. 

The suggestion here would be to move from thinking about a topology of 
objects, forms and behavior, on toward a topology of networks, a topology 
of agency, of events, and of subjectivity. 

WF: One major issue addressed in your present project IO_dencies is the 
question of the "cultural identity" of the cities investigated— Tokyo, Sao 
Paolo— and the interrelation of local and global forces Now on the one 
hand, the peculiar character of these cities emerges in the urban profiles pro- 
vided by local architects and urban planners; on the other hand, and more 
importantly you argue that "cultural identity" can no longer be located in 
the architectural structures of the megacities, but might be relocated in the 
activities of local and translocal agents who, by means of data networks 
form a new kind of connective." From your experience with the project so 
far, what are your preliminary conclusions regarding the shape of cultural 
identity as it emerges through the cooperation of local and global forces? 

K R : W hat is referred to as the global is in most cases, based on a technical 
infrastructure rather than on lived experiences The electronic networks 
form a communication structure that allows for a fast and easy exchange of 
date over large distances But the way in which people use these networks is 
strongly determined by the local context in which they live, so that, as a 
social and cultural space, the electronic networks are not so much a global 
but a translocal structure that connects many local situations and creates a 
heterogeneous translocal stratum, rather than a homogeneous global stra- 
tum. T he activities on the networks are the product of multiple social and 
cultural factors emerging from this connective local-translocal environ- 
ment. We don't deny the existence of the global but see it as a weaker and 
less interesting field for developing new forms of agency 
There are local formations in which certain behavioral patterns emerge, 
and translocal connections make it possible to connect such specific local 
situations and to see how the heterogeneities of these localities can be com- 
municated and how they are maintained or not in a translocal situation. 
Against the worldwide homogenization of the ideology of globalism one 
should set translocal actionsthat are connected but can maintain their mul- 
tiple local differences 

T he IO_dencies project is rooted in local situations, and we are looking for 
the productivity of the interface in the movement from the local to the 
translocal. In this continuing process, we are testing the translatability of 
ideas and cultural contents the local points of friction, and also the hetero- 
geneity of what is often seen as a more or less homogeneous local cultural 
identity. At the same time, we recognize that globalization is a reality and 


that purely local interfaces are insufficient. The global generates circum- 
stances that mal<e it necessary to open the local toward the translocal, in 
order to develop effective forms of agency 

We were intrigued by the polemical hypothesis about the G eneric C ity that 
Rem Koolhaas formulated in 1994. The Generic City is the city without a 
history without the burden of an identity, the suburban nightmares and 
recent Asian boomtowns viewed under the sobering, cynical, pragmatic- 
dare we say: Dutch— daylight. Implicitin Koolhaas's suggestion isthe relent- 
less growth and the unstoppable expansion of the G eneric C ity. I n the twen- 
ty-first century he seems to say, the Generic City will become the norm 
rather than the exception. 

The Generic City is identityless Yet, identity is not something that is the 
same for a whole city. People have or develop a clear sense of "home" even 
in the most decrepit of neighborhoods Local people have an intuitive l<nowl- 
edge that allows them to distinguish between a street in Kreuzberg and 
M itte, between M anhattan and Brool<lyn, between Bras and PinheirosThe 
identity that is constructed in such urban environments is a heterogeneous 
composite of different symbolic matrices, social, cultural, familial, that are 
local as much as they are translocal. A possible counterhypothesis to 
K oolhaas would therefore be that only few places are generic cities, and only 
a fraction of these will remain generic for longer periods of time. The gener- 
ic is not the end, but a beginning characteristic of many human settlements 
The project 1 0_denciesasl<s how, suspended between local and global activ- 
ities, urban characteristics are enhanced, transformed, or eradicated, and it 
investigates whether the extension of the urban environment into the elec- 
tronic spaces might allow for changed qualities of urbanity. Is communica- 
tion technology the catalyst of the G eneric C ity, or is it the motor for anoth- 
er, transformed notion of urbanity and public space? 

WF: You have compared the creation of nonlocations to a mode of con- 
struction that you claim to have always been a concern of architecture as 
well: "theconstructability of theunconstructable." Is notthe present project, 
in drawing on data and parameters employed by traditional urban planning, 
in danger of relapsing, as it were, into construction— of constructively con- 
tributing to a l<ind of advanced urban design, for which your experimental 
data spaces may serve as a model or at least complementation by which it 
may come to terms with the unpredictable processes of the heterogeneous 
and fragmented urban field? 

K R : H ere you refer to experimental settings K nowbotic Research developed 
in the past. 0 ur current research tries to push nonlocations toward fields of 
agency and presence and we are rather doubtful if the term "under con- 
struction" may turn the attention in the right direction. 
0 ur recent projects are not meant as urbanistic solutions, but they seel< to 
formulate questions about such urban interfaces, about visibility, presence 
and agency within urban assemblages We aim at experimental topologies of 
networl<ed intervention, which are able to offer a connective form of acting 
inside urban environments, between heterogeneous forces and in multiple, 


differentiating ways. T he relation to tlie concrete city environment is main- 
tained tlirougli worl<ing witli young local architects and urban planners who 
are searching for other ways of dealing with the problems and challenges of 
the city they live in. The aim, however, is not to develop advanced tools for 
architectural and urban design, but to create events through which it 
becomes possible to rethink urban planning and construction. T he question 
we raise is: What can be done if we accept that urban environments, systems 
of complex dynamics, cannot be planned and constructed anymore in a tra- 
ditional modern sense? 

Urbanism, in exploding megacities with high social inequalities, means that 
city space is delimited and planned only for about one third of the inhabi- 
tants, the rest of the people stay outside the walls of the capitalized space. It 
would be politically precarious to speal<of this other two thirds, the so-called 
illegal city as a nonlocation. I n our studies we found clear needs for relevant 
forms of agency that are able to deal with the complex processes of urban 
exclusions T hese forms of agency don't have to deal so much with the re- 
articulation of territory but they have to invent and produce existential inter- 
faces for the visible and invisible forces of a city in order to avoid political, 
economical and cultural isolation. 

1 0_dencies explores the phenomenon of urban agency and distributed and 
networked subjectivities on different levels Initially it seeks to develop inno- 
vative ways of reading and notating city environments, drawing out their 
energetic and dynamic elements T his provides the basic data for the follow- 
ing, collaborative manipulations of specific urbanic strata. We outline inter- 
faces that are able to transcode the analyzed data and facilitate different 
forms of access to the urban machines Analysis, interface development and 
practical collaborative involvement are all part of a process that represents 
an inquiry into the structures and the points of potential transformation in 
urban environments 

WF:Yet, if the observation about a certain constructivenessof your current 
project is correct, then how does it relate to the claim of yoursthat your work 
is intended to enable intervention and resistance? Where, specifically would 
you place the locus of resistance and intervention both as a capability of 
your machinic constructs as such and as a possibility of the user within the 
fields of action thereby created? In terms of the Deleuzian notion of the 
machine as that which interrupts a flow, how does the internet-aggregate of 
IO_denciescut into the given physical spaces and the lived urban experience 
of the urban quarters investigated? 

K R : First of all, it is important to affirm that we are not building urbanistic 
tools for a general use, and that the models we develop cannot simply be 
deployed in a political or social context. IO_dencies offers experiments for a 
small group of people who are highly motivated and looking for individual 
ways of participating and intervening in their local urban situations Even 
those with an academic background as urbanists and architects are fre- 
quently disappointed by the methods and models of agency that are domi- 
nant in planning offices IO_denciestriesto initiate a concrete process inside 


the group which allows for a specific form of locally and translocally deter- 
mined collaborative actions, accompanied by software processes that try to 
support the individual needs inside the group communication. 
Contemporary cities are covered with successful and failed attempts at leav- 
ing such traces and creating such feedbacl< loops The noise from roaring 
cars and ghetto blasters, the ubiquity of graffiti and tags, sticl<ers and other 
lasting marl<s, even temporary and permanent pieces of architecture are 
clear attempts at creating a lasting visibility and presence in the urban envi- 
ronment. Viewed from a cultural and from a political perspective, however, 
this l<ind of visibility is rather powerless if it is not coupled with opportuni- 
ties to act and to intervene in the public arena. A possible hypothesis that fol- 
lows from the experience of Anonymous Muttering is that in complex 
machinic systems like the urban, effective intervention is only possible in the 
form of a connective agency within which the different individual and 
machinic tendencies and potentials are combined and connected. This form 
of agency would not develop its strength through being localized and aimed 
at a certain goal, but would be composite, heterogeneous, dynamic, and to a 
certain degree subjectless 

IO_denciesworksin a very different way and tries to develop interfaces that 
allow for a more conscious engagement with urban forces It has to be said 
that, in the different cities, we are initiating extremely singular processes and 
singular tools that do not represent "Tol<yo" or "Sao Paulo," but evolve in a 
close collaboration with groups of specific urbanists, architects and others 
T his method is also a result of the discouragement of the higher goals that 
we had set out prior to the Tokyo project. We are becoming more sensitive 
to the specific local circumstances, and we have to formulate the interfaces 
in a way that makes it possible for people to insert and develop elements of 
their cultural identity 

In this sense it is questionable whether we are dealing with "the urban" at 
all. Rather, the goal is to find out whether it is possible, in a situation where 
the city itself is being deprived of many public functions, to develop elec- 
tronic interfaces that open up new forms of agency and whether network 
interfaces can become useful in local as well as in global contexts 
The question of responsibility can be understood in a concrete ethical 
sense. Large parts of the public functions of the city are currently moving 
into the networks which leads to new mechanisms of exclusion within the 
urban environments T he political question would be whether it is possible 
to conceptualize interfaces that can subvert such processes of exclusion. 
Building interfaces means to allow for change to happen. We do not want 
to build a better world, but only better interfaces that enhance the perceiv- 
ability and the respect for the actions and the needs of others and allow for 
a heterogenization of social relations Difference, otherness and becoming- 
other, the possibility of multiple singular processes are moral necessities 
Connective interfaces enable the formation of aggregatesof multiple hetero- 
genizing machines 

[This is an excerpt of an interview made for Film+Arc Biennale, Graz.] 



DATE: {WED, 29 OCT 1997} 

M aria Fernandez has taken an active roie in tlie formation of colonial stud- 
ies in art history, applying postcolonial theory and cultural history to art his- 
tory and historiography She is also active in postcolonial and multicultural 
critiques of electronic media art. 

CAE: A postcolonial perspective seems to be absent from the major dis- 
courses in media theory in North America and Europe (in spite of the fact 
that postcolonial theory is well developed and even institutionalized in the 
U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K.). At best, it seems to be a marginal- 
ized undercurrent. Why do you think these two knowledge pools have very 
little overlap? 

M F: The interests of the two fields have been quite different. Postcolonial 
studies have been concerned with issues of identity, representation, agency 
gender, migration, and with identifying and analyzing strategies of imperial 
domination and/ or resistance in various areas of theory and practice T his 
includes fields that people do not traditionally associate with imperialism: 
biology history literature, psychology anthropology popular culture, and 
most recently art history and philosophy 

Particularly in the eighties and early nineties, much of electronic media the- 
ory (the little that existed) was concerned with establishing the electronic as 
a valid and even dominant field of practice In fact, many theorists were 
knowingly or unknowingly doing the public relations work for the corpora- 
tions This often involved the representation of electronic technologies— 
particularly the computer— as either value-free or as inherently liberatory 
T he exponents of such rhetoric could not afford to acknowledge the exis- 
tence of theories concerned with the analysis of imperialist strategies, at least 
not until th^ felt sure that their goals were reasonably well accomplished. 

C AE : I n the U .S., the Utopian rhetoric of W iral culture has been harshly crit- 
icized by different leftist factions as a blind apology for predatory capitalism 
and enslavement to its work machine While the extreme ethnocentrism 
involved in the "California" position has been named, there is only a mod- 
est amount of work on the way in which imperialist ideology is replicated in 
this discourse. D o you have any insights into this matter? 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 220 

M F: I attribute this lack to the separation of the two fields Asyou have said, 
the two fields have developed parallel to one another, but have very few 
points of intersection. I also think that, at least in U.S. academic circles, that 
there is still some hesitation about referring to the U.S. as an imperialist 
power (gasp!). The replication of imperialist ideology in Utopian positions of 
the W ired magazine variety is really not hard to recognize. H ave not virtual- 
ly all imperialist projects adopted Utopian and humanitarian rhetorics? Was 
it not humanitarian ideals that supported the "civilizing mission" of the 
French, British, and other colonial powers? The belief dear to "California" 
ideologues— that pancapitalism is a "natural" result of "evolution"; the 
defense of free enterprise against government intervention; the supposition 
that unregulated commerce will bring about individual freedom, democracy, 
and even the elimination of human suffering— all these were all prefigured 
in the nineteenth century. Does any one remember H erbert Spencer? 

CAE: In Western and Central Europe (the U.K . notwithstanding), postcolo- 
nial theory has not done any better. At the major media festivals, there is lit- 
tle if any effort to integr ate this line of thought into the discussion. Such 
matters are left to the more politicized conferences such as the Next Five 
M inutesor M etaforum. W hat obstacles do you think stand in the way of the 
development of a mainstream platform for postcolonial thinking? Can this 
situation be linked to the current government/ E .U . support for media festi- 
vals and new spaces such asZentrum fiir Kunst und M edien in Karlsruhe? 

M F: Some Europeans view postcolonial theory as an example of political 
correctness (which they perceive as the dominant ideology in the U.S.) and 
not as a field of inquiry with any relevance to them. I have asked the same 
question to artists and intellectuals in Germany, France, and Scandinavia 
that you are asking me; the response I have invariably received is that Europe 
is not experiencing the same immigration pressures as the U.S. and since the 
population of the country in question is to a large extent "homogeneous," 
postcoloniality is not an issue Even people from large, multicultural, cities 
including Berlin and Paris, have given me the same response. This attitude 
ignores even the histories of colonization within Europe itself I The percep- 
tion of European countries as "homogeneous" could be a very good reason 
why the discussion of colonialism/ postcolonialism is not mainstream. 
I think that in the case of government and E.U. -sponsored media festivals 
and institutions, the situation is more complex. Traditionally culture sup- 
ported by states or government entities is culture that can be used to support 
official positions of what culture should be, not to mention to uphold official 
representations of national or ethnic identities Culture produced with the 
help of technology is no exception. In fact, technology has always been at 
the heart of such representations One only has to notice the privileged place 
accorded to technology in accounts of both colonial conquest and national- 
ism. As in the past, if technology is being used to support official constructs 
of identity, even at the broad level of theE.U., this could be a very good rea- 
son to exclude theories that focus on the marginal and the hybrid. 

CAE: Postcolonial theory has not managed to insinuate itself into academic 
institutions in most of E urope. W hy has it been relatively successful in the 
U.K . and North America, but nowhere else? 

M F: No one in the U.S. can maintain that the population is "homoge- 
neous" (although some still argue for the values of integration). Non- 
Europeans have long been established in American urban settings and 
have impacted the way many people live and think. M inority groups and 
their supporters have been very vocal about including multiple cultures in 
academic curricula, and since many of these cultures have colonial histo- 
ries, it has been impossible to leave out discussions of colonialism and 

T his in no way implies that racism is not thriving or that colonial/ post- 
colonial studies are dominant. As you l<now, proposals for "multicultural- 
ism" in educational curricula have resulted in bitter debates about what 
culture and "the American heritage" really are. In addition to the activism 
of minorities, the relative success of postcolonial theory in the U.S. is to 
due to the presence in universities of academics from former European 
colonies. I understand that this is still quite rare in Europe. 

CAE: We need to invert this line of questioning Why haven't people active 
in postcolonial discourse responded to new media developments when they 
know they are key to the development of the postcolonial situation? Just 
recently on Nettime, there was an interview with Gayatri Chakravorty 
Spivak. She all but refused to answer questions having to do with media 
theory, and went on with her usual literary theory To what extent are post- 
colonial representatives refusing to engage the discourse, except for places 
where it's comfortable for them, such as in film theory? 

MF: Postcolonial theory has been predominantly literary Most theorists 
teach in English and Comparative Literature departments. And despite the 
current hype for interdisciplinarity academics, at least in the U.S., rarely 
venture too far from their established fields 0 ne must recognize that the 
analysis of a diverse range of texts has been invaluable for developing post- 
colonial criticism, as has the analysis of popular culture, television, film, 
and video. I am not sure if most postcolonial theorists realized that new 
media were crucial for the further development of imperialism (I think 
Edward Said conceded as much in an interview). I suspect that at least 
some of them thought that the debates about new media were distant or 
even distracting from what they perceived as more immediate problems 
T he preference of postcolonial theorists for video, film, and the plastic arts 
may be dictated by the media that predominate in the developing world. 
The advent of digital media in developing countries is very recent. In 
1990-92, for instance, it was really hard to find visual artists working in 
these media in Latin America. This situation has changed in the last few 
years, but these practices are not yet as widespread as they are in the U.S. 
and Europe. We must note, however, that the advent of commercial digi- 
tal networks, while they remain invisible in much of the developing world, 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 222 

have had a powerful effect on those economies. 

CAE: Video isanother comfort zone for postcolonial theorists and for those 
artists who use it as a conceptual foundation for their worl<. Is this a situation 
of too little too late? Video is a dying medium. Will the current trend of 
video based installations in both the U.S. and Europe save it from consump- 
tion by the digital? 

M F: I find it difficult to criticize artists from the developing world who use video. 
In many cases this is the most advanced technology they've got. As cheap as 
digital technology is getting in the overdeveloped world, it is still prohibitively 
expensive in many parts of the planet. T his will undoubtedly change as prices 
continue to drop and people become adept at manipulating digital media. 
I n some cases, artists deliberately choose not to work with the latest technol- 
ogy or trend. T his has been an ongoing subject of debate in the critique of 
Latin American and African art of all periods Europeans and American 
critics often view the arts of these regions as being derivative and retardaire. 
I t's only recently that they have begun to realize that anachronistic works can 
be made intentionally I do have to agree with you that the engulfment of 
video by digital media seems imminent at this point. But it will not happen 
in all places at the same time. 

CAE: To end on a more concrete note: Two electronic artists recently show- 
cased who are interested in postcolonial topics are Guillermo Gomez-Pefia 
and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. What strategiesor tactics in their work do you 
find valuable? 

M F: I find the work of both artists extremely valuable Guillermo Gomez- 
Peha and his partner Roberto Sifuentes were key in catalyzing the current 
discussion of border culture and hybridity in artistic and academic circles in 
the U.S. Guillermo's theoretical writings and performances have been effec- 
tive in calling attention to the stereotypical representation of M exicans in 
U.S. popular culture These stereotypes are not without serious conse- 
quences T hey are at the very heart of U.S.— M exico relations, not to men- 
tion basic to the appalling treatment of M exicans and people of M exican 
ancestry within the U.S. I think that G uillermo and Roberto's participation 
in electronic media festivals is productive, as it may open up much-needed 
discussion about issues of difference, marginalization, and hybridity, as well 
as provide refreshing alternatives to Euro-American visionsof thefuture But 
because their work has not yet grown within the digital, it is unlikely to 
engage the geeks and techno-utopians 

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and his partner Will Bauer produce work that is 
very seductive at the technological level, in addition to being visually and 
theoretically interesting I understand that they have been working for about 
ten years just on the technological apparatus of their pieces alone Their 
interests are by no means restricted to postcolonial issues Their piece, 
"Displaced Emperors" dealt with issues of power, history memory virtuali- 
ty architecture, presence, sensuality, desire, agency and colonization, within 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 223 


DATE: TUE, 20 OCT 1998 17:17:12 -0400 

The domain name issue and Paul Garrin's Name. Space has been a controver- 
sial topic for a while now. The flamewar in September 1997 on Nettime about 
this was one of the reasons to move from an open list to moderation. 
Name. Space has from the very beginning been part of the Nettime agenda (if 
such a thing exists). Paul Garrin was one of the twenty participants of the 
founding meeting in Venice 0 une 1995). Name. Space can been seen as a 
results from Garrin's efforts during the Next Five Minutes 2 conference 
(Amsterdam,] anuary 1996) to establish a "Permanent Autonomous Network." 
The attempt to question one of the fundamentals of the internet, the control 
over the domain names by governments and monopolistic corporations, can 
be interpreted as a radical form of net criticism, beyond the initial critique of 
the Wired ideology (R.I. P.). 

Soon Name. Space became more than just a concept. Paul appealed to all of us 
to support the project and reconfigure our servers. Not everyone was convinced 
that the software would work. Some became suspect about the way Garrin 
turned this common effort into a private business. Name. Space became identi- 
cal with legal documents, complicated technical terms and horrendous (macho) 
fights. Because of legal reasons, Paul cannot always speak in an open manner 
and we have, more or less, accepted this. We asked him about the current state 
of the project, how artists are running a business, the international aspect of the 
domain name system (DNS) and how we can (again) get involved. 

Q : You are an artist. You went deep into technology with NameSpace, but 
this is not the first time you did it. What, in general, doesart havetodo with 
media and technology, and do how you define your place in it. 

A: Control media and you control the public. Free media is a threat to con- 
trol. As an artist, one strives to discover an effective means of working in any 
medium— and when that medium is a mass medium, the key is to establish 
and sustain visibility. If there is no support system to guarantee reliable dis- 
tribution, the work disappears 

0 ne of the main concerns in my work has been the notion of the public 
vs the private. Territory Security Privacy And the way that "the media" 
manages the perception of the public. These things have always been of 
interest to me. A name is an essential and universal element. On the net, 
the uniqueness of the name is imperative. In capitalism, the idea of 
uniqueness means "value". ..commodity One of the key elements of 
oppression and control is to control the notion of identity Within thestan- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 224 

dard of the "domain name system" the message is control, "domination," 


Being an artist does not condemn one to being an idiot savant. M al<ing art 
talces vision. Limiting your definition of art to the confines of the art institu- 
tions limits viaon. Lool<to the world, not to the art world and you will under- 
stand where I am coming from. M y work is not about crafting things but 
about creating situations Where to look and what to look at is determined 
by the situation and its contextualizaton. I have approached all of my proj- 
ects in this way each with its own challenges and learning curves and a min- 
imum of repeated effort, building on each experience. 

Q : Why do you look down on artists and activists that still work in old ways, 
like getting grants, living on the dole, temporary jobs in schools, and so on? 
Your enterprise is very strategic, I can see that. But should we all start run- 
ning businesses now? 

A : I don't know where that perception came from. I don't look down on any- 
one It's more about looking at the impending future of theirs and our dis- 
appearance, or at least the disappearance of any hopes of creative freedom 
and autonomy In a very real sense subsidies, especially for unpopular, non- 
mainstream ideas in art and media are gone in the U.S. and are on the road 
to extinction in Europe japan's postwar funding structure has always been 
tied to corporate PR and in light of their present economic crisis, is even 
tighter and more closely bound to the corporate mainstream. 
We see how institutions like ZK M (in alliance with the Guggenheim) set their 
agenda according to the pulse of Siemens and Deutsche Telekom. Forget 
any social criticism or political content or forget their deutschmarks Their 
agenda is to accumulate wealth and property and take credit for defining the 
art of the time in their own image (or at least one that syncs with their PR 
agenda) not to support living artistsand the nurturing of their ideas Control 
the Art and you Control the People I was told by the ZKM at one point that 
they had considered buying my work but in the end didn't because it is too 
controversial (I have a letter from a curator stating this). 
Starting a business is a serious risk. I am not a "trustfund" boy and am not 
independently wealthy I took money that I earned through my work and 
invested it in creating my company pgM edia, inc., and in developing and 
deploying Name.Space— all at great personal risk. For me it was no ques- 
tion that it was the right thing to do and that it was the right time to do 
it— and that the concept has a high likelinessto succeed in the marketplace 
and generate a stable enough income to run a network and fund the 
growth of resources and future development. A serious career choice and A 
good risk to take, not to mention an interesting and challenging way to 
spend my time... 

I could have taken that investment and created another installation that 
would have easily consumed all my available cash. And it would have been 
another dead end. T here is no relevant market for my artworks in the exist- 
ing structure of the art world. Art should not be created in accordance 
with market demand or acceptance by the corporate elites T he critics and 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 225 

skeptics who doubt my abilities or intentions obviously doesn't know me 
and are reacting on ignorance and not on insight. Some believe that fail- 
ure is the ultimate success, and that loss of their victim status would rob 
them of their purpose. I couldn't disagree more. 

Q : So even if your main field is not art anymore, what is driving your fight 
for a certain autonomy within the new media? 

A: Art alone does not assure our survival or even the creation of more art. 
In order to assure the autonomy of the content, totally self regulating, 
without the control of commercial interests, it is imperative to buy the 
bandwidth— the only option to eventual disappearance of free media 
when the "Disneyfication" of media and the net is completed. Sponsors 
have their agendas and their limits to "tolerance." T his has been demon- 
strated time and again and should by now be understood. The idea of 
what is "authoritative" and what is "acceptable" should not be controlled 
by commercial interests 

One important aspect of Name.Space is to prevent the privatization and 
commodification of language. Some companies and individuals claim pro- 
prietary ownership rights to words such as "web" and "art". 0 ne individual 
even claims ownership rights to the letters "a" through "z". This monopo- 
lization and claims of ownership of common words harms the public inter- 
est. T he privatization of language must be viewed as a negative trend. T he 
NameSpace model creates an expansive top-level namespace that is in the 
public domain. The top-level namespace is not owned by anyone and is 
meant to be shared even by competing registries T he registries provide a 
service in the public interest and trust and do not "sell property" or other- 
wise make claims to property. Top-level names can come and go according 
to use, like a natural process. If there is demand for even one top-level, like 
.art or .media, which can be shared by the public, then it will be created 
within any bounds of the existing technology If there is no longer demand, 
it can be "retired" in order to free up space for other new top-level name- 
spaces that may come into being, including non-English categories, some of 
which exist today 

Q : D 0 you see this movement against the rise of monopolies? 

A: Large corporations, who came very recently to the net, such as Time 
Warner and D isney and M icrosoft have bought up network capacity all over 
the place and have also become content providers, if you can call it content. 
T his is the disappearance of public space on the net as I wrote prior to the 
Next Five M inutes back in 1996. The idea of the permanent autonomous 
network was based in maintaining free zones on the net which mutually sup- 
port each other and establish economic models to assure their presence by 
generating revenues to buy bandwidth— because to guarantee the survival of 
free art and free media on the net an infrastructure must exist along with an 
economy to support it. As the big content providers buy up connectivity and 
resources upon which we become increasingly dependent, they establish pri- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 226 

vate areas in which they control the content through various means T here 
is no guarantee of access or autonomy of content. T he net result is a disap- 
pearance of support systems for noncommercial and controversial content, 
as well as privacy and security 

Q : What is the relation of names and the political economy of the inter- 
net, then? 

A: Survival of media independence demands creation of an economic struc- 
ture that Is basically a self-sufficient, self-supporting network. N ame.Space is 
conceived as a service to potentially fund the bandwidth that we need. 
Apparently the market for domain name registration Isa largeone. Revenues 
generated through fees for name registrations and other services would be 
adequate to fund our networks and to support our cooperative partners In 
Europe and even, hopefully sponsor some other activities for producing 
media and holding conferences So I think that It could be a very important 
aspect of Independence of not only buying and providing bandwidth and 
server resources, but also supporting content production. It Is not necessari- 
ly a question of how much bandwidth, but that we have any at all and, of 
course, what we do with It Is of vital Importance. 
It doesn't take an economist to realize that Network Solutions (InterNIC), 
who have made claims of ownership of the top-level domains fTLDs) like 
.com, and .org Is profitable now, unlike most of the wannabe vaporware sll- 
Icon-alley-valley-gulch-mulch hypesters whose overvalued stock prices are 
magnitudes higher than cash flow and are losing money like crazy N SI claims 
that the demand In 1998 represents only 2 percent of the potential market 
for domain names 

0 ver the years I have established my commitmentto the promotion and sup- 
port of independent media and alternative channels of communications On 
my own initiative, time, money and labor, I have established a strong net 
presence for excellent independent media and content through M edIaFllter, 
which first went online on M arch 1, 1995, and has since grown to over 
240,000 unique hosts visiting per month, pumping out 2 gigabytes per week 
of content that has become a well for research, education, and journalism 
[including online editions of independent investigative journalism such as 
Covert Action Quarterly or T he Balkan M dia and Policy M onitor]. 

Q : So do you want to become a big player yourself, an owner of the means 

of production? Who will profit? 

A: Well, this is always a question of scale, scale isa question of money if it 
turns up that we end up making money in the billions, sure we can lay fiber, 
and buy up satellite links I wouldn't say that this Is In our two-year plan, but 

1 wouldn't rule it out either I n fact I am known for my capacity for reinvest- 
ing resources and therefore, if we do make that amount of money I am not 
that kind of person that buys fancy clothes and a Porsche and moves to a 
house in the country I would put that into infrastructure, research, and 
development— including developing new young talent. 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 227 

Q : How do you see the improvements of Name.Space? At what point is 
N ameSpace now, if we leave out the whole legal battle? 

A: There are many aspects to the N ameSpace project— business, 
autonomous policy networl<ing strategies, long term thinl<ing, extra-institu- 
tional ways of working, technical details, standards, U.S. laws, global consid- 
erations—all of these are in dynamic interplay and we deal with them on a 
day-to-day basis If we have a "routine," that pretty well describes it. 
All of those aspects are of equal importance and it is critical to keep them 
all in perspective while dealing with them each individually in a practical, 
hands-on, nuts-and-bolts way The need for specialists in each field goes 
without saying and we have an excellent team to deal with each of these 
aspects Collaboration and cooperation are essential elements for the success 
of any large-scale project. Sure, the N ameSpace project was initiated by me, 
but it is by no means a solo effort. 

Q : So isn't it based on a simple hack? 

A: Not at all. It's based on running the code as it's meant to be run. DNS 
is scalable at all levels. There is no real limit to the number of top-level 
domains, or the number of domains at any level of the DNS. Running 
new top-level names is not a difficult thing. Its simplicity is almost 
obscene. The issue of global recognition is the key Right now, 
N ameSpace lives as an intranet within the internet. L ike a matter of per- 
ception, the recognition of N ameSpace nameservers or not determines 
whether N ameSpace exists or not. Like changing channels— Removing 
the censorship filter. This is a "grassroots" thing, and my favorite aspect 
of the potential of N ameSpace— the individual's ability to choose their 
view of the net... U nregulated by commerce or government. But all TLDs 
should be globally interoperable because that's what the internet is all 
about. T herefore, we have been working hard to find a legal and political 
solution to globally recognized newTLDsto be administered in a fair and 
inclusive way globally 

T he convention of D N S is not the issue presently— it's the scope of its pos- 
sible implementation. N ameSpace works with the existing DNS software 
and protocols, exactly There is no difference N ameSpace is DNS. ..and 
about exploring the potentials of a free namespace N ameSpace from its 
beginnings has always been a collaborative and cooperative project. M ost of 
the top-level names were suggested by users via a suggestion form on the 
N ameSpace website The SINDI project conceived by N ameSpace will 
enable the total decentralization of name registries 

Q : So how about the legal aspects of your fight? 

The net has been declared by international law expert Henry Perritt as a 
"global commons," much like the oceans and waterways electromagnetic 
spectrum, space, geosynchronous positions in space, and other shared 
resources of the earth that are not exclusively controlled by any sovereign. 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 228 

The case between pgM edia/ NameSpace and NSI is a classic "essential 
facilities" case between two private companies T he "." is controlled by N SI 
exclusively and they must according to law allow reasonable, nondiscrimina- 
tory access to it. 

T he matter of access will be settled between the two companies, and the U.S. 
government will stay out of it not to violate the First Amendment and to 
uphold the Clinton administration's stated policy not to regulate the internet. 
As a separate issue, the establishment of independent N SP's internationally 
in accordance with all local jurisdictions will happen naturally as there is 
demand in the local markets The "." being the global commons that it is 
must be managed responsibly and treated for what it is: a new industry that 
has grown into a rapidly emerging global market. T he internet is interna- 
tional and ideally self-regulating, and the reality is that market forces will 
determine the dynamics of the net. 

When I studied the logistics of running DNS, I realized that the limits on it 
were artificially imposed in order to limit supply and facilitate control. T he 
central database and "whois" records are all controlled by Network 
Solutions, Inc., which is a subsidiary of SAIC (Science Applications 
International Corp.), one of the largest private contractors for the U.S. 
National Security Agency the Pentagon, and the Internal Revenue Service. 
M ost of the top corporate officers are former U.S. military personnel who 
have retired from service and are engaged in "private practice," putting their 
militarily acquired skills to work for profit. I n effect, when one registers and 
pays Network Solutions for a domain name, they are also paying to maintain 
surveillance on themselves 

Ask yourself I s this what you want? D oes it make you feel comfortable? 



DATE: MON, 12 OCT 1998 13:36:58 -0400 

It somehow made sense to me when my Walkman stopped working I had 
used it to recorded all of the interviews, that have been remixed for my con- 
tribution to this book, and it broke down the day after I had finished tran- 
scribing the last of the interviews with a net artist. To methistechnical prob- 
lem marked the end of an era. The first formative period of net culture 
seems to be over. Books like this one seem to sum up the exciting years that 
followed the discovery of the internet by artists and intellectuals. 
The interviews that my Dutch colleague Josephine Bosma and I did in the 
last couple of years are sort of an oral history of this period. T hese inter- 
views, that were posted on Nettime and a couple of other mailing lists, were 
something of a news agency for the artists, critics, and audience that were 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 229 

1119980993295551085 . 
1119981096305551086 . 
1119981107215551087 . 
111998110B325551088 . 
1119981109435551089 . 
1119981100545551090 . 
1119981101555551091 . 
1119981102755551092 . 
1119981103875551093 . 
1119981104985551094 . 
1119981101095551095 . 
1119981101105551096 . 
1119981101115551097 . 
1119981101125551098 . 
1119981101135551099 . 
1119981101145551100 . 
1119981101155551101 . 
1119981101165551102 . 
1119981101175551103 . 
1119981101185551104 . 
1119981102195551105 . 
1119981102205551105 . 
1119981102215551107 . 
1119981102225551108 . 
1119981102235551109 . 
1119981102245551110 . 
1119981102255551111 . 
1119981102265551112 . 
1119981102275551113 . 
1119981102285551114 . 
1119981103295551115 . 
1119981103305551116 . 
1119981106315551117 . 
1119981117215551118 . 
1119981118325551119 . 
1119981119435551120 . 
1119981110545551121 . 
1119981111555551122 . 
1119981112755551123 . 
1119981113875551124 . 
1119981114985551125 . 
1119981111095551126 . 
1119981111105551127 . 
1119981111115551128 . 
1119981111125551129 . 
1119981111135551130 . 
1119981111145551131 . 

1119981111155551132 . 

1119981111155551133 . 
1119981111175551134 . 
1119981111185551135 . 
1119981112195551135 . 
1119981112205551137 . 
1119981112215551138 . 
1119981112225551139 . 
1119981112235551140 . 
1119981112245551141 . 

.1230 ...4493 -- 
.1238 ...4483 -- 
.1246 ...4472 -- 
.1254 ...4451 -- 
.1252 ...4451 -- 
.1270 ...4440 -- 
.1277 ...4429 -- 
.1285 ...4418 -- 
.1292 ...4407 -- 
.1299 ...4395 -- 
.1306 ...4384 - 
.1313 ...4373 -■ 
.1320 ...4361 -■ 
.1326 ...4349 -- 
.1332 ...4338 -- 
.1339 ...4326 - 
.1344 ...4314 - 
.1350 ...4301 -- 
.1355 ...4289 -- 
.1351 ...4277 -- 
.1355 ...4254 -- 
.1371 ...4252 -- 
.1375 ...4239 -- 
.1380 ...4227 -- 
.1385 ...4214 -- 
.1389 ...4201 -- 
.1393 ...4188 -■ 
.1397 ...4175" 
,1401 ...4162 -■ 
.1405 ...4149 -- 
.1408 ...4136 - 
.1411 ...4123 - 
.1415 ...4110 -- 
.1418 ...4097 -- 
.1421 ...4083 -- 
.1423 ...4070 -- 
.1425 ...4057 -- 
.1428 ...4043 -- 
.1431 ...4030 -- 
.1433 ...4015 -- 
.1435 ...4003 - 
.1437 ...3989 -■ 
.1438 ...3975 -■ 
.1440 ...3962 - 
.1441 ...3948 -- 
.1443 ...3935 -- 
.1444 ...3921 -- 
.1445 ...3907 -- 
.1445 ...3893 -- 
.1447 ...3880 -- 
.1448 ...3855 -- 
.1448 ...3852 -- 
.1449 ...3838 -- 
.1449 ...3824 -- 
.1449 ...3811 -- 
.1449 ...3797 -- 
.1449 ...3783 -- 

[/m/e/t/a/ { Wed, 
14 Oct 1998 00:58:23 -08001 

interested in art on the internet. Josephine and I were to some extent con- 
fined—due to geographical reasons— to the part of the developing net art 
community that identified itself asnet.artistswith a dot in the middle. I can't 
speak for the both of us, buti tried make sure thati wasn'tjustthe ventrilo- 
quist'sdummy for this exclusively European circle and tried to get in contact 
with artists who were not part of the traveling circus that meets at European 
media art festivals such asArsElectronica, I SEA, and so on 
For me the interviews were an attempt to escape the well-known rituals of 
the art world. After more than ten years of overtheoretical, dull, humorless 
writing on contemporary art after the period of Institutional Critique or 
Context Art, I tried to return to an approach that was more down-to-earth. 
And, as the many responses I got over the net to these interviews showed, a 
lot of people enjoyed those artists' statements better than a Lacanian read- 
ing (or other interpretation infested with the terminology of another trendy 
philosopher) of net art projects In addition, doing interviews was a way of 
materializing the immaterial net art projects— at least on paper. To make this 
virtual reality visible again, I had artists tell me stories about it 
What's needed in the future will be more of a problematization of the issues 
that many of these interviews raise. Were the net.artists well advised to locate 
themselves within the art context? Will net art (given that it is an art genre at 
all) keep its freshness and uniqueness with the growing interest of art muse- 
ums? Or will we see the same tiresome processes of institutionalization that 
happened to video art twenty years earlier? I was taught in journalism school 
that a journalist must never write, "It remains to be seen." But at this point 
I can't think of any other answer to the questions I am asking myself. 
I am sure that some artists won't appreciate finding their quotes taken out of 
the context of the interviews and put together in a collection like the one that 
follows M y intention was to point to motives and ideas that kept emerging 
in these conversations One might want to keep them in mind when 
approaching net art in a more theoretical way 

The quotes were taken from more than twenty-five interviews I did with 
artists who work on the internet from late 1996 to the summer of 1998. 
Excerpts from them have been published in online and print magazines and 
newspapers, such asTdepolis, Intdligent Agent, DieTagszdtung, Spiegd Online, to 
name just a few. I am grateful to the editors of these publications that they 
supported my research into net art by publishing articles and interviews on 
a subject that must have been rather dubious to most of them. 
Some of these interviews went over the Nettime list, the majority of them 
however didn't. Some— as the interview with Jodi— have been reprinted 
over and over again by now. Others have been sitting patiently on my hard 
disk for months The whole bunch of them will be published in German in 
a book called Kunst im Internet (Cologne: suppos-Verlag, forthcoming). 


Robert Adrian X : There was a completely absurd episode in 1956, when I was 
still in Canada. I was working in a jazz club, and one of the musicians there 
told me that the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. was looking for people to work 
in an installation that involved a computer. The normal office workers couldn't 


handleitso they were looking for people to come in who could improvise— cre- 
ate a system for the machine To me it was just a temporary, well-paid job. I 
guess there were about twelve of us— artists musicians students, writers— 
everybody was under twenty-five T hey had built a whole building in M ontreal 
for this computer— which probably had about eight l<ilobytes of RAM . The 
computer counted railway cars The data on the railway traffic was collected at 
different locations in Canada. They wanted to know exactly where each car 
was whether it was empty whether it was full, what wasloaded etc. Wegotthis 
information on teletype machines that also made punched tapes we turned into 
punched cards Every night the cards were sorted and transmitted to M ontreal. 
I worked in the Toronto Data Center, and we had to communicate with the 
other data centers, the C omputer C enter in M ontreal, and the train yards in 
our region, so we were always online via teletype 

Padeluun (Bionic): [In the art scene of the eighties— TB] there was nothing of 
interest to us anymore. T here was nothing that got you excited or that even 
had some sort of vision. Buthere[with computers and BBSs— TB] was some- 
thing, that made us think. There is something going to happen in this field... It 
will change our society maybe even better it. Let's see what comes out of it. 
We started to go to industry fairs instead of art shows We found out that at 
these fairs there were also people with smart, funny ideas We started to look 
at contemporary scientific theory because we started to understand that this 
didn't become part of art and culture at all. T here was no transfer, no transla- 
tion into everyday culture. 

H eiko Idensen: In 1984 1 went to the art show "Leslmmaterieaux" at the Centre 
Pompidou in Pans, that was co-curated by the postmodern philosopher J ean- 
Frangois Lyotard. The question was if postmodernism could be shown in a 
museum. Part of it was collaborative writing project, where French thinkers 
discussed via M initel system. Lyotard had introduced fifty terms like absence 
and navigation, topicsthat are still up-to-date today You could participate in this 
at the museum. I personally couldn't even use French keyboards, but it left a 
huge impression on me 

M ark N apier: I used to paint. T he nice thing about painting and sculpture is 
that those art forms don't crash. I got my first internet account in July 1995, 
put some of my paintings on my homepage, and then realized that this medi- 
um was completely separate from painting Just scanning the images changed 
their nature, and of course I could create so many effects with Photoshop that 
the original painting no longer existed by the time I posted the image on my 
site. A few weeks later I took down all the paintings and started playing with 
HTML to see what I could get it to do. I experimented in hypertext "essays" 
(for want of a better word) like Chicken Wire M other and the Distorted 
Barbie, before! got into a much more painterly interactive approach, like what 
I'm doing now in POTATO LAN D. I haven't painted since summer of '95. 

M arko Peljhan: I was a radio amateur from when I was eleven years old. In 
Yugoslavia during socialism there was a big radio scene, and as kids we 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 231 

would go to the radio club and talk with people all around the world on short 
wave radio. When I thinl< about it now, it was very formative for me, because 
it was a very global experience. 

Olia Lialina: On the Homepage of Cine Phantom [a cinema for experi- 
mental films in Moscow where Lialina is film curator— TB] I used to put 
AVI -files into the pages You could theoretically show a whole film on the 
page. But that wasn't enough for me. I asked myself how onecould show film 
and filmic thinking on the net. I tried to do my experiments with storytelling 
with HTML instead of film footage. 

Alexei Shulgin: M y first experiment with the internet was in 1994, when I 
set up an online gallery of Russian art-photography The reason to do this 
was very political, because it was against the existing practice of artcurating 
and had to do with exclusion and inclusion. T here wasa big show of Russian 
photography in Germany Some very interesting projects and series of works 
were not included because of the obvious ignorance of the curators 

TB: On the German or on the Russian side? 

Shulgin: Both, because they were too busy with political games As a pho- 
tographer I was included in this show, but I thought there was something 
wrong with the whole concept. So I proposed to do a kind of supplement to 
the show on the internet. 

Walter van der C ruijsen: M y enthusiasm for the internet came from the fact 
that I finally found a medium where I could give all these immaterial ideas a 
place. In 1993 the Dutch H acker cub "H acktic" organized a congress that 
was called "H acking at the End of the U niverse," which took place on a 
camping ground. I was invited by some friend there. I didn't know much 
about the internet. After this congress it went really fast. I wrote the concept 
for the "Temporary M useum" for an Internet-Environment, and for some 
time it existed as the art space in the "Digitale Staad." 


Jodi: When a viewer looks at our work, we are inside his computer. There is 
this hacker slogan "We love your computer." We also get inside people's 
computers And we are honored to bein somebody's computer. You are very 
close to a person when you are on his desktop. I think the computer is a 
device to get into someone's mind. 

Debra Solomon: I like to refer to it [the net— TB] as Tamagotchi-culture. 
When you are online twelve hours a day your desktop becomes your 
(audio)visual environment... You talk with all these people [with videocon- 
ferencing systems— T B] while you are doing your work. We practically live 
in the visual world of our desktops Likethe_living says "We are the peo- 
ple in the little plastic egg." 

Jordan Crandall: I see the internet as a network of materializing vectors. It 
is really involved with creating new material forms and refiguring existing 
forms People talk about disembodiment on the net, and I really don't 
know what they mean. For me it is very embodying, it just embodies in dif- 
ferent ways I like to watch how technological paces affect daily rhythms 
and routines. 

Jodi: I don't thinkyou really avoid the art world by doing things on theinter- 
net. Itwasmorethat we were already working with computers And I found 
that the best way to view works that were made with a computer was to keep 
it in a computer And the internet is a very good system to spread this kind 
of work. T he computer is not only a tool to create art but also the medium 
to show it within the network. And since the network doesn't have any labels, 
maybe what little Stevie is doing is art. I t's the same with our work: there is 
also no "art" label on it. In the medium, in which it is perceived, people don't 
care about this label. 


Robert Adrian X : ...When the machines are on and your fingers are on the 
keyboard, you are in connection with some space that is bQ^ond the screen. 
And this space is only there when the machines are on. Itisa new world you 
enter. For me it was never a question of travel. For me it was always a ques- 
tion of presence, of passing through some membrane into another territory 
I t's not about things it's about connections 0 f course, we were prepared for 
this by conceptual art, by minimal art and all these movements An elec- 
tronic space is very easy to imagineonceyou have grasped the idea of a con- 
ceptual space for art works 

Eva Wohlgemuth: The net contains space and spacelessness at the same 
time, and you are always reminded of that when you work with the net. It 
makes it possible— at least in theory to access the material you work with 
from any place in the world— without dragging stuff around with you. 

Paul Garrin: In the last couple of years there has been a gentrification of 
neighborhoods, now there is a D isneyfication of the net. T hat is as danger- 
ous I warned two years ago at the conference Next Five Minutes in 
Amsterdam of a disappearance of public space on the internet. Back then, 
John Perry Barlow said: "That will never happen." 

Jodi: It makes the work stronger that people don't know who's behind it. 
M any people try to dissect our site, and look into the code Because of the 
anonymity of our site they can't judge us according to our national culture 
or anything like this In fact, Jodi is not part of a culture in a national, geo- 
graphical sense. I know it sounds romantic, but there is a cyberspace citizen- 
ship. M ore and more URLs contain a country code If there is ".de" for 
G ermany in an address, you place the site in this national context. We don't 
like this Our work comes from inside the computer, not from a country 

Bunting: I don't really surf the internet. I tal<e great pleasure in wan- 
dering around cities, and seeing what happens, and London is a good 
place to do that. If you ever get bored, you just go out your door, and with- 
in a few minutes something interesting is happening 


Stelarc: I think that the body is obsolete. But that doesn't mean that there is 
a repulsion from the body All I think is that the body has created an envi- 
ronment of intense data, data that it is alien to our subjective experience. We 
have created an environment of precise, powerful, and speedy machines that 
often outperform the body We've constructed computers that now can chal- 
lenge and compete with chess grand champions Technology speeds up the 
body, the body attains planetary escape velocity. T he body finds itself in alien 
environments, in which it is biologically ill-equipped. For all of these reasons, 
the body is obsolete. Now, do we accept the evolutionary status quo? Do we 
accept the arbitrary design of the body? 0 r do we evaluate the design of the 
body and come up with strategy of reconstructing, redesigning, rewiring the 
body? For example, can the body have a wired internal surveillance system? 
Can the body have an augmented sensory experience? These are two aspects 
that would have profound impact on both our perception of the world and 
on the medical well-being of our bodies. 

Victoria Vesna: ...I could see us uploading information into the internet and 
having agents doing work, freeing us from necessarily being with the com- 
puter. I actually think a lot of this machine-human interface is very primi- 
tive first steps of understanding how the technology will become part of our 
lives It could also be a way to reaffirm our physical body 

TB: Yet one could understand your work BodieslNCorporated" as an affir- 
mation of the things that are happening in biotechnology right now... 

Vesna: Not really because these are philosophical, psychological bodies 
designed to ask those questions you are posing. So it is not about us project- 
ing us into this space somehow thinking that this is taking the place of our 
physical bodies I have had people ask me that repeatedly and I am always 
amazed. D oes creating a body on the internet means that I don't exist here? 
No, I still havetogotothetoilet. There is nothing virtual about that. 

Eva Wohlgemuth: I also have the desire to upload myself and dissolve into 
cyberspace, but in the given situation I will work with the nonideal body 
and try to make something out of it. For me it is the possibility to use its 
weaknesses and imperfections to find different images for what is going on 
around me. 


jodi: [We are angry— TB] because of the seriousness of technology It is 
obvious that our work fights against high tech. We also battle with the com- 
puter on a graphical level. T he computer presents itself as a desktop, with a 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 234 

trash can on the right and pull down menus and all the system icons We 
explore the computer from inside, and mirror this on the net. 

jviatthew Fuller (l/O/D): Th^ [off-the-shelf software products— TB] work 
fine in some ways, but only because users have been normalized by the software 
to work in that way T here are other potential ways to use software out there, 
that seem to have been blocked off by the dominance of the Windows- 
metaphor, the page-metaphor, and other ways of interfacing with computers 
that have become common. We believe that G U lis suffering from a conceptu- 
al M illennium Bug.. I thinkthe "Web Stalker" realizes the potentials of the net 
better. It strengthens the range of mutation, the street knowledge of the net. 
N ormal browsers deal with a website as a determinate amount of data. W hat 
we do is an opening up of the web to a representation of infinity. I guess that 
this is the core mathematical difference between the Web Stalker and browsers: 
between presenting a fixed amount of data and an infinite amount of data. 
What we want to say is that the web consists of a potentially infinite amount of 
data. What normal browsersdo is close it down, that's why th^ are ea^ to use 

Paul Garrin: I am opposed to the concept of "Domains" as such. In the term 
"domain" is the military heritage of the internet: "Domain," that means 
"Domination," control, territories— this thinking comes straight from the 
Pentagon. And that's the way some people look at it: they think that these 
names are their property, like a piece of real estate that they bought. And all 
of a sudden the word "earth" belongs to a company! 

Bunting: I was trying to find a way to cut down on junkmail to my email 
account, and I came up with this concept of an algorithmic identity. I change 
my address now every month in a way that is very easily predictable to 
humans, but not to a computer. I chose the date, the month, and the year, 
something most Western humans would know. So my email address cur- 
rently Every month the previous address will be 
deleted, and if you send mail to this address, you get an autoreply saying: 
"T his identity is now expired, please reformat in this form." Since I 've done 
that my email hasgonefromfifty a day to just about five. I don't get any stu- 
pid messages anymore. 

Julianne Pierce (VNS M atrix): I think that technology is part of the struc- 
tures of power that have been developed by the patriarchy But now is the 
first time that women are able to participate in developing an industry or a 
discourse. Women never really had a part in how the industrial age devel- 
oped for example. In the information society, they can play a really strong 
role in developing the future. So it's really important for women to get into 
therootsof technology and work their way up. If we want a society that real- 
ly represents men's and women's views, women have to be at the top of that 
ladder. The internet and technology in general has been developed by men 
as a means of warfare, industry and commerce. We're interested in having a 
discourse on the different areas of technology be it the internet, be it multi- 
media. What particularly interests me is the how the information age 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 235 

changes our society and our culture. T hat for me is a really important issue 
of being involved with as well as using these technologies 

T B: Would you say that computers or the internet are gender-neutral? 

Pierce: No, I thinl< it's part of a system. I don't want to call this patriarchy 
but the basic fact is that men control this whole information industry Bill 
Gates is one of the most powerful people on earth, and there are generally 
men who are controlling the development of the industry There aren't many 
women in those positions of power that actually influence the flow of tech- 
nology M aybe the computer and the internet as such are a neutral space, 
but there are certainly gender issues, that are relevant to that space. The 
presence of women assubjectsof technology and users of technology is real- 
ly important. T here are really didactic arguments about how the hardware, 
the screen and the keyboard, favors the masculine, but I don't agree with 
that. There are women who contributed to the design of all this 

M arko Peljhan: I think there is not enough knowledge in society about tech- 
nology and telecommunications People tend to mystify it a lot, but when you 
really start working with it, it is just a tool like any other. I think that creative 
people who work creatively in this field have to develop specific technical 
skills, and you have really know how you are using them and why When I 
started working with satellites, I realized that it was all military technology 
T hat is a very important moment to reflect upon, this military provenance of 
almost everything that we use. 


Robert Adrian X : I wanted to create networks, and in these networks things 
can happen. I am interested in the strategic part of it, not in the content. I 
am curious to see what happens once this space for art is created. M aking 
pictures is not what it's about. It is about finding ways of living with these 
systems, to look at how culture is changing in these systems 

Vuk Cosic: I did a lot of HTM L documents that crashed your browsers I 
noticed that there was a mistake somewhere in my programming And than 
I asked myself: I s this a minus or a plus? So then I was looking how to get to 
that. It was not enough just to avoid this mistake, I was trying to really under- 
stand that particular mistake, with frames or with GIFs that used to crash 
old browsers or later JavaScript, that does beautiful things to your comput- 
er in general. 

0 lia Lialina: T he web makes it possible to experiment with linear, parallel, 
and associative montage. With "M y Boyfriend came back from the War" one 
can influence the narration. It is some kind of interactive montage. But the 
possibilities that the user has are limited, because he doesn't know what hap- 
pens when he clicks on a certain field. But this work is more about love and 
loneliness than about technology 

Alexei Shulgin: If you deal with technology-based arts, the very first years 
are always the most exciting ones Look at photography: When they invent- 
ed the 35mm camera there was this explosion of art photography in the late 
Twenties and early thirties Artists just did whatever they wanted with pho- 
tography T hey didn't worry how it would fit into the art system. T hey exper- 
imented with the medium, and they got really great results It was the same 
with video. Video art of today is not interesting for me at all. Artists now use 
it as a new tool for self-expression. But I don't believe in self-expression. 

TB: Why? 

Shulgin: There is too much information already I don't need more. But 
when this medium video appeared, it was really interesting what artists did 
with it. Same with the net: we are in the early stage of it now, and people are 
just drawn to it by enthusiasm. 


jodi: People sometimes send us helpful code. For example, somebody sent us 
a Java applet that we actually used for our site. We are really grateful for that. 
Some people really encourage us, too. They say: "Go, jodi, go. M ake more 
chaos M ake my computer crash more often." 

Debra Solomon: I don't think that computer games are very interactive. T his 
conversation is interactive, because we both can influencejust about everything 
that goes on in it. That's how the interaction will be [at the net art project 
the_living— TB] between the_living and her audience participants, when I'm 
on this trip. For example, I have an itinerary already but should a participant 
know of some place or individual that would really add to the narrative or cre- 
ate a visually exciting atmosphere, I would be happy to change my route 

Alexei Shulgin: I don't believe in interactivity because I think interactivity is a 
very simple and obviousway to manipulate people. Because what happens with 
so-called interactive art is that if an artist proposes an interactive piece of art, 
they always declare: "0 h, it's very democratic! Participate! Create your own 
world! Click on this button, and you are as much the author of the piece as I 
am." But it is never true. There is always the author with his name and his 
career behind it, and he just seduces people to click buttons in his own name 
With my piece "form art," I encourage people to add to it. But I am honest. I'm 
not saying: Send it in, and I will sign it. I will organize a competition with a 
money prize, like a thousand dollars I think that will stimulate people to con- 
tribute I really want to make this an equal exchange. T hey work for me, and I 
give them money I think, it is much more fair than what many of these so- 
called interactive artists do. 


Robert Adrian X : From the very beginning the problem has existed of iden- 
tifying and defining the "work" and the "artist" in collaborative or distrib- 
uted network projects The older traditions of art production, promotion 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 237 

and marketing did not apply, and artists, art liistorians, curators and tlie art 
establisliment, trained to operate witli tliese traditions found it very difficult 
to recognize these projects as being art. Net art challengesthe concept of art- 
making as a more or less solitary and product-producing activity 

Wolfgang Staehle: The issue of "institutional critique" was interesting to me, 
but I thought it was absurd to formulate a critique of the institutions of the 
art system within its institutions That was just like re-arranging the furni- 
ture. I thought that this wasn't consequential. T hat's why I tried to really do 
something outside the institutions I think. The Thing [the art-oriented BBS 
that Staehle ran in the early nineties— TB] worked so well, because the tra- 
ditional art world didn't take any notice at all. The thrill was that you could 
feel like a gang of conspirators 

0 lia Lialina: I, personally never said in any interview or presentation that 
internet is my long awaited freedom from the art institutions I never was 
connected to art system. I was not an artist before I became a net artist. 
Maybe that's why I — from the very beginning— concentrated on other 
things: internet language, structures, metaphors and so on. But at the same 
time the idea that net art must be free from real-world art institutions is very 
dear to me, because in their order of values net art isjust one of computer 
arts But I don't think that the right way to demonstrate freedom is to trav- 
el from one media event to another with presentations of independence. It's 
better to develop an independent system... For me to give up my freedom 
would be to stand on how a lot of critics, artist, and activists earn mon^ 
and make a career with everyday statements that net art has no monetary 
value. Its not funny anymore. Article after article, conference after confer- 
ence they want to convince me that what I'm doing costs nothing Why 
should I agree? 


Robert Adrian X : T here was no way to make money out if it, and there 
still isn't. You support the communications side of your work with money 
from elsewhere. I sold artworks and used the money to support the com- 
munications stuff. There was nobody from the big art centers like New 
York or London or Paris or Cologne involved. T he people who participat- 
ed in these projects needed the communication, because th^ lived in 
Vancouver or Sydney or Vienna or San Francisco. 

Jodi: [For the participation in Documenta X— TB] we got a fee for the 
expenses we have when we put our files on their server. In total we got twelve 
hundred deutschmarks It is a clear example of exploitation. Which artist 
would move his ass for this amount of mon^? But net art is a victim of its 
B-status It istreated as group phenomenon, as a technically defined new art 
form. T hat is something that we have to leave behind as soon as possible, 
because that is the standard way to do these things: a group creates a hype. 
T hey call it mail art or video art, and it's doomed to die after five years I 
thinl< we are looking for another way because we are not typical artists and 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 238 

we also won't play the role of the net artists forever. 
H eath Bunting: At least half of my projects could be turned into a business. 
I did begging on the net for one week, and got sent fifteen hundred pounds 
I made a form where you can send M asterCard or Visa donations to myself, 
and then I inserted it into corporation's or government guestbool<s over the 
period of a week. A lot of people found it entertaining, and sent me money 
But I didn't actually cash that money It's not so interesting for me to do busi- 
ness. I assume that most of the credit card information that was send to me 
was from stolen credit cards anyway.. 

I get paid for giving talks At the moment it is very boring for me to have an 
apartment. So for me this is a way to travel around without having to sleep 
outsideall thetime. I haven't had an apartment since September, I have been 
traveling continuously since last June. And I enjoy doing it, it's very chal- 
lenging T he internet is a technology that makes that possible. M aybe ten or 
twenty years ago, there would have been a different way of networking. 
M aybe a hundred years ago, it would have been a name. If I was a certain 
type of aristocrat, I could have turned up in a court in India in rags, and I 
would have just said my password, and I would have been admitted and 
treated very well. I n those days it was your name. T here are other passwords 
now, that give you access to certain things. T he funding models change. I n 
the postmodern funding model, everything is small and connected in terms 
of business. Forty years ago it was different: with the modernist funding 
method, everything was big and disconnected. And that would have made it 
very difficult for me to travel around. 


G uillermo G omez-Peha: Basically we want to bring a C hicano-M exican 
sensibility to cyberspace. We see ourselves as web-backs T hat's a pun on 
wetback, which is derogatory term for M exicans We see ourselves as kind 
of immigrants in cyberspace. We also see ourselves as coyotes as smug- 
glers of ideas because we do believe that there is a border control in 
cyberspace and that the internet is a somewhat culturally, socially, racial- 
ly specific space. 

Roberto Sifuentes: T his is important, because when we started this proj- 
ect, the internet was seen as sort of the last frontier, the final refuge 
where issues about race relations don't have to be discussed, where race 
doesn't matter— as a strategy of avoidance. So it was important for us to 
venture out into the internet, and when we first "arrive there," we start- 
ed getting responses back like: "T here goes the virtual barrio, there goes 
the neighborhood. T he M exicans have arrived." L iterally, people send us 
mails like that. 

Alexei Shulgin: I feel much more included than before [the internet— TB]. 
W hen I was just an artist living in M oscow, whatever I did has always been 
labeled as "Eastern," "Russian," whatever. All my work was placed in this 
context. T hat was really bad to me, because I never felt that I did some- 
thing specifically Russian. 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 239 


Alexei Shulgin: ...What we have now is that there is no critical context. Art 
always takes place in some physical place, in a museum or whatever. Even 
when it's a performance, it takes place in a space that is marked as an art 
place. Even if it is not an art place, it is appropriated by artists and therefore 
becomes an art place. With the net, you don't have this physical space. 
Everything happens on your computer screen, and it doesn't matter where 
thesignal comes from. That's why there is a lot of misunderstanding People 
are getting lost, because they don't know how to deal with the data they are 
getting I sit art, or isn't it? They want to know the context because they don't 
believe their own eyes 

Robert Adrian X : T he term "artists" has to be defined much more broadly 
in this context. You have to include so-called hackers in this definition for 
instance, because they are operating creatively with these systems 

Vuk Cosic: I think that every new medium is only a materialization of pre- 
vious generations' dreams T his sounds like a conspiracy theory now, but if 
you look at many conceptual tools, that were invented by M arcel Duchamp 
or by Joseph Beuys or the early conceptual sts, they have become a normal 
everyday routine today with every email you send. With every time you open 
N etscape and press a random U R L at Yahoo. E ighty years ago this action, 
which is now totally normal everyday life, would have been absolutely the 
most advanced art gesture imaginable, understandable only to Duchamp 
and his two best friends T his very idea to have randomness in whatever 
area, form, shape, would have been so bizarre in those days.. 
I will give a lecture in Finland in September in which I will argue that art 
was only a substitute for the internet. T hat is of course a joke. I know very 
few people who have so much esteem for what artists did in the past. 

M arko Peljhan: I actually don't care much about this kind of designation. 
When I compare myself with some other people who are also "artists" I 
don't see much we have in common. So I just call my works "progressive 
activities in time." I am actually interested in defining Utopia, looking over 
the defined borders T hat is the legitimization that an artist has the right to 
be irresponsible sometimes 

Wolfgang Staehle: T hat's not of interest to me, that's up to the art historians 
to decide. I can't answer this question. 

[Links to all the art projects mentioned can be found at <http:// ourworld^t H omepages/T ilman_Baumgaertel/ >.] 



DATE: TUE, 22 SEP 1998 16:16:51 +0200 


Tilla Telemann: "Female Extension," your intervention of the net art com- 
petition "Extension," lield by the H amburg G alerie der G egenwart (G allery 
of the Present) aroused quite a bit of attention. What was the initial idea 
behind "Female Extension"? 

Cornelia Sollfrank: Actually, I wanted to crash the competition. I wanted to 
disturb it in such a way that it would be impossible to carry it out as planned. 

TT: Why? 

C S: Because I thought it was silly that a museum would stage a net art com- 
petition. For me, net art has nothing to do with museums and galleries and 
their operations, their juries and prizes, because that goes against the nature 
of net art. N et art is simply on the net; so there's no reason for a museum or 
for a jury that decides what the best net art is 

TT: Do you still think that way? 

CS: Basically yes But I'm afraid this development can't be stopped. Net art 
is on the verge of changing completely It still happens on the net, but this 
need for completed, whole works that can be sold, that have a certain defin- 
able value, that can be attributed to an identifiable artist, and the establish- 
ment of authorities who do the evaluating and who deal in net art— we 
won't be able to ignore these developments N et art will evolve in this direc- 
tion, and away from what it was in the beginning. 

TT: Where did the aggressive impulse to crash the competition come from? 

CS:I simply am that destructive. I had thefeeling that they didn't know what 
they were doing T hey just wanted to profit from the hype surrounding net 
art without truly investing in it. T hat's what I wanted to shake up, and with 
this disturbance, call attention to the fact that it's not as simple as that. N et 
art is not just about cleanly polished websites; it might very well have some- 
thing to do with mean, system-threatening actions of disturbance, too. 

TT: The action was seen by many as a "hack"; Die Woche a German 
newsweekly even named you "H acker of the Week." Do you see yourself as 
a hacker? 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 241 

CS: No, I'm an artist. But if you take a closer lool< at tlie term "liacl<," you 
very quicl<ly discover tliat liacl<ing is an artistic way of dealing with a com- 
puter. So, actually hackers are artists— and some artists also happen to be 

TT: What does the term "hacking" mean for you? 

C S: T here's something called the H acker J argon D ictionary which is an attempt 
to define that term, among others For me, an important parallel between 
hacking and art is that both are playful, purpose-free ways of dealing with a 
particular thing It's not a matter of purposefully approaching something, 
but rather, of trying things out and playing with them without a useful result 
necessarily coming of it. 

TT: Many spectacular hacks result in the destruction of computers, or at 
least a crash. With this in mind, do you see a parallel between your destruc- 
tive impulse and hacking? 

CS: H acking does not mean first and foremost destroying Today computer 
hackers place the greatest value on the fact that they're well-behaved boys 
who simply like to play around and discover the weakest points of systems 
without really wanting to break anything At the same time, hackers can 
induce unimaginable damages. But at the moment, it's really about the play- 
ful desire to prove to the big software companiesjust how bad their programs 
actually are. At least they're trying to push their image more in this direction. 
Regarding my own action, it does have more to do with disturbance than 
destruction. I couldn't actually destroy "Extension" any more than I could 
inflict any serious damages to the Galerie der Gegenwart, but I was never- 
theless able to toss a bit of sand into the works Everything did not actually 
fall apart, but a few people did have to spend a considerable amount of time 
looking at a lot of trash/ garbage.. .and so on. This did disturb the trouble- 
free course of the competition. 

TT: Another aspect of hacking is that it does seem to attract people who 
enjoy the intellectual challenge of creatively working around limits 

CS: Yes, hacking does have to do with limitations, but even more with norms 
That's another parallel with art. The material that art works with are the 
things that constantly surround us T he only thing art actually does is break 
the patterns and habits of perception. Art should break open the categories 
and systems we use in order to get through life along as straight a line as pos- 
sible Everyone has these patterns and systems in his or her head. T hen along 
comes art: what we're used to is disturbed, and we're taken by surprise. New 
and unusual patterns of perception offer up the same things in a completely 
new context. In this way thought systems are called into question. And only 
the people looking for this are the ones who are interested in art at all. 

TT: Would you say that there are as many well-defined conventions involved 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 242 

in an art competition astliere are in computer programs and that you have 
subverted these conventions with your action? 

CS: Yes, that, too. The material I'm worl<ing with in regard to "Female 
Extension" is, on the one hand, the internet, but also the traditional means 
of art distribution: the museum, the competition, the jury, the prize. 

TT: If you wanted to disturb the competition, why didn't you hack the serv- 
er the art projects were stored on and erase everything? Or disturb the 
awards ceremony, for example? 

C S: T hat's "electronic civil disobedience." I n a way I did my demonstrating 
on the net because it had a greater effect. M y action wasn't truly destructive. 
I didn't breal< anything; on the contrary I was actually very productive. 
Instead of destroying data and information, I used automatic production to 
see to it that there was more data so that the works sent in would be harder 
to find. 

TT: Isn't it something of an affirmation of a system when someone tries to 
get into the system, whether it be a computer system in the case of the hack- 
er or a competition in the case of an artist? Wouldn't it be more consistent 
to do the disturbing from the outside? 

CS: No, you can disturb far more effectively from the inside than from the 
outside Producing a flow of data has a considerably greater effect than stand- 
ing out in front of the museum with a sign reading, "Down with Extension." 

TT: 0 ne thing hackers emphasize again and again is that besides influenc- 
ing social developments which only an elite group can follow anyway access 
to sensitive information is really at the core of what they're up to. I s that also 
somewhat related to what you're doing? 

CS: It has less to do with the information itself and much more to do with just 
how open systemsare. T he information itself is constantly changing. T here's 
always new information. M uch more important are the hierarchies of sys- 
tems what's accessible to whom. H ierarchies are established with passwords 
and codes and so on. T hese have to be broken by hackers again and again. 
Because of this hierarchies have to be restructured over and over, and verti- 
cally structured systems are rebuilt horizontally This is also the decisive dif- 
ference between the distribution of art and net art. Art distribution is a hier- 
archical system, so it's vertically structured. I can't just hang my art work in a 
museum. But I can go to the net and "hang up" my website, for example 

TT: Of course, that's precisely what so many artists found so interesting 
about the internet in the beginning. But in the meantime, it's even the peo- 
ple who deal with it professionally can't keep an overview of everything that's 
going on in the field of net art because there's so much of it. A paradoxical 
situation has developed: Precisely because "everyone is an artist" on the 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 243 

internet, it's especially important that net artists establish some sort of rela- 
tionship with art institutions in order to gather some sort of recognition... 

C S: T he only function of an art museum I can accept on the net is that of 
establishing a context. Which meansthati don't just put my website out there 
where no one can find it, but rather, I place it within a certain context, for 
example, an art server Presuming that it's a website at all, because besides the 
world wide web, there are many other services and levels on the net where art 
can take place But the art server shouldn't be an art institution with a curator. 

TT: In a way an art server is the internet's equivalent for a producer's 
gallery That is, there are artists who run a server themselves and fill it up 
with their own oeuvre. This is fine for the artist, but it may well not be of any 
general interest to anyone else. And that's what curators are for: To be a 
"gatekeeper" that only allows net art through which will have a certain value 
for the general public and not just for the artist who made it. I n my opinion, 
this filter function is extremely important for the art public... 

CS: Of course there are people who need this filter function because they 
don't have the time or the desire to look around for themselves But with 
regard to "Extension," for example, there was nothing there that interested 
me. 0 ne should always be aware of just how elitist and questionable the 
choices made by a museum actually are. 

TT: There is the historical example of video, where the processes of canon- 
ization and the induction into museums took place, processes that are prob- 
ably on the verge of occurring with net art. W hat's actually so bad about the 
fact that museums are dealing with net art and trying to evaluate the various 
works? After all, that's the job of an art museum, to contribute toward the 
creation of context and the formulation of a canon. 

C S: T he motto for the museum is: C ollect, protect, research. A museum that 
seeks to deal seriously with net art would have to collect net art and serious- 
ly consider all the consequences of just how this art form is to be preserved 
and researched. 

TT: Aren't you contradicting yourself? 0 n the one hand, you're saying that 
net art only takes place on the net and that's where it should stay and the 
museums should leave it well enough alone, and yet, on the other hand, 
you're saying that museums should be collecting net art... 

CS: If a museum were to seriously take on the challenge of collecting net 
art, I could accept that. But I doubt that that's what they actually have in 
mind. And what happened at the Galerie der Gegenwart is a prime exam- 
ple. They simply wanted to quickly swim alongside the hype, to 
sample a bit of the cream topping on all things cyber and net. But th^^'ve 
shown that they had absolutely no idea what that would actually mean in 
that ever since the competition, there have been no more efforts in this 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 244 

direction wliatsoever. Since the awards ceremony in September 1997, the 
website hasn't been updated. 

But if competent people were to worl< with a significant museum on the 
idea of seriously collecting net art, I'd approve. It'd be an incredible chal- 
lenge, because not only would the collection of worl<s and the formulation 
of theory be involved, but also a tremendous amount of hardware and soft- 
ware would be necessary in order to be able to read the data according to 
technical standards that go out of date within the shortest periods of time. 
So technical specialists who could handle the inevitable repairs and main- 
tenance would also be necessary But the museums are hesitant when faced 
with such a huge task. Such a collection would have to have a very broad 
range and gather as much material as possible, which would also necessar- 
ily mean that a certain evaluation and hierarchy of the individual tasks 
would have to be created. 

TT: What you accomplished with your action is that the Galerie der 
G egenwart won't be dealing with net art at all anymore. Would you consid- 
er this a success? 

CS: The idea of starting a collection of net art with "Extension" was put into 
cold storage, in a way Now they've offered Stelarc a residency This com- 
promise, that is, working with a single artist whose work is quickly compre- 
hensible, is much more consistent, I think. With Stelarc, in termsof content, 
they are venturing out onto a new terrain, but it's still nevertheless compati- 
ble with a museum. 

TT: Your "Female Extension" reminds me of the contextual art or the insti- 
tutional critique of the early nineties In the art world at the time, there was 
also this idea of focusing on and calling into question the conventions the 
mechanismsof the creation of normsand canons These were questionsthat 
only interested those who had anything to do with art. Could it be said that 
your work was essentially aimed strictly at the jury? 

CS: The jury was of course, most immediately effected, although the mem- 
bers didn't realize at all that "Female Extension" had anything to do with 
art— all the better. As for how much other people, for example, the artists 
participating in "Extension," were effected by my action, I don't know. But I 
got a lot of feedback from people who weren't directly involved and for 
whom I drew attention to an important problem, namely the attempt to 
make net art museum-ready M any net artists don't know themselves just 
how they should react to this and careen back and forth between the under- 
ground and the professional world. I don't have this problem because my 
work was the attack on the structure of the museum itself. 



DATE: MON, 12 OCT 1998 13:36:58 -0400 


Colonel Noonan is a pseudonym he used for his pirate persona. The name 
came as play on the name of cable television pirate C aptain M idnight (a dis- 
gruntled H BO employee who captured an H BO relay station in 1988, and 
uplinked some very unflattering text about the cable giant). 

CAE: Col. Noonan, could you tell us how you got interested in satellite tech- 
nology and guerrilla action using this technology? 

CN: I became interested in satellite technology when I heard about these 
things called "backhauls," which allow you to seelV personalities off cam- 
era. T here are two ways a backhaul can work. 0 ne is when they cut to com- 
mercial on your broadcast station— meanwhile your satellite station is not 
running the commercial. T he commercial is being inserted at headquarters, 
so on satellite, you still see the person on camera waiting to go back on the 
air again. Another variety of backhaul is one common to newscasts and TV 
magazines, such as on CNN. In this case a raw signal (a signal containing 
only the image of the host or newscaster) is sent up to a satellite and then 
downlinked to a station that will insert the graphic or tape material neces- 
sary for a completely packaged show. But if you tune into the backhaul, you 
can see the person without the graphics, or see them when the insert tape is 
being rolled. This has always interested me, because you can see how theTV 
spectacle is constructed. 

CAE: Where did you get your equipment to do this, and what was the cost? 

C N : I n 1978 a home satellite system would have cost about U S$120,000- 
150,000, because when the signal comes down from the satellite it is so weak 
that it demands extreme amplification. At that time, the amplifiers 
US$80,000- 100,00, with only twenty to thirty being made a year. Home 
technology became possible when the amp could be made very cheaply By 
1989 several generations of equipment have been released to the public. The 
early equipment, from about 1978-82, can be found on the back shelves of 
dish dealers' shops, and can be gotten very cheaply since it lacks many of 
what are now considered standard features T he amp can now be bought 
used for sixty dollars 

CAE: Is this the setup you use? 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 246 

CN: Yes, pretty much so. The dish I use was originally made for telephone 
microwave from point to point on land. It's called a landline microwave; it 
uses the same frequency as satellite microwave M y mount is made out of an 
old bedframe and casters 

CAE: You can use these to get bacl<hauls? 

CN: Yes; just tal<e your dish and go through every satellite Spend a day 
There is no [public] schedule for backhauls, so you have to do your own 
research to find out when the ones you're interested in come up. 

CAE: What kind of commentary have you heard? 

CN : 0 ne time on T heM acNeil-Lehrer Report, Walter M ondale wason and he 
was painfully bored. H e was watching the show on a monitor and they had 
just reported that Lloyd B en tsen's father had died. With that M ondale broke 
up laughing and said that Bentsen had always claimed that his father was the 
worst driver in the world, and now he's the worst dead driver in the world. 
H e also found the Wedtech scandal to be hilarious Backhauls allow you to 
get a glimpse of politicians' private persona, in a way that their public rela- 
tions people can't control. 

CAE: Can you also pick up news camera feeds if there is footage online 
from China or Central America? 

CN: Yeah. Live transmissions are good. I got one from CNN where a 
reporter was at this huge fire, and she is quite upset because she can't get the 
ash that was floating in the air off her teeth. So she spent most of the feed 
trying to keep her teeth white Another thing you get is bulk tape source 
material before it's edited. I got a feed of a massacre in San Salvador It was 
five minutes of corpses and the town's reaction. It'snice because you can see 
the event without it being contextualized by graphics and voiceover. It's 
unfiltered news 

CAE: Isit illegal to tap satellite feeds and backhauls? 

CN : I wouldn't think so. It's on the public airwaves You buy a consumer 
dish, turn it on, and there it is Nothing is scrambled, no special equipment 
is needed. It's public information. 

C AE : It would only be in distribution that you could get into a legal gray area. 

CN : It would seem so, because you're hurting the public persona of theTV 
personality such as with some footage I have of Robert T ilden. 0 n camera 
he's praying intensely for people, and as soon as he is off the air he breaks 
into a totally different personality. H e wants to know how much money is 
coming in, he's yelling at his studio people. I'm sure it would upset him, 
because it shows what a hypocrite he is 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 247 


(From an Interview with Brian Springer byjanos Sugar [December 1995]) 

JS: H ow many other people are able to also use this? Is there a community 
that is working with tiiisuseof satellite dishes, catching images from the air? 

BS: It's fairly dispersed. When I was doing it I didn't know of anyone else 
who was necessarily doing it. But on the internet there are some forums for 
dish heads. A number of individuals have multiple dish systems that receive 
this type of programming. It does not require a special decoder; it's not 
encrypted; it's available to anyone with a home satellite dish system; and 
there are over three and a half million home dish-owners in the U.S., so it's 
potentially available to that large of an audience T he channels are usually 
hidden in noise that is there on a satellite with not much activity and where 
there's usually static and for maybe a few hours a day this link occurs where 
you can see this programming. M ost people will not hunt through this noise 
and when they do find something they're not going to watch it because it's 
very boring T he project was sort of a surveillance project and required sev- 
eral thousand hours of viewing. In 1992, 1 spent about two thousand hours 
watching the links of the networks, watching the links created by the candi- 
dates. M uch of the time during those links nothing happens You might have 
Bill Clinton sitting in a chair and he might ask someone to come over and 
he'll whisper in their ear, "We need to do our laundry H ow can we do our 
laundry? My shirt smells" So it was very mundane, it was kind of a stakeout 
trying to catch those moments that represented wanting to use TV to not 
communicate. T hat's what I was looking for. 

jS: Do you think that this informal side of television could have an influence 
on the medium of TV? 

BS: I think it gets down to an issue of an investigation and that usually 
requires the revealing of secrets of what your investigating It could become 
fashionable to be off-camera. T his could become just another technique 
where being off-camera just becomes another stage to perform on, and I 
think the question is: "H ow can one investigate to reveal something that is 
hidden and something that is hidden can only be found where the person 
hiding the thing thinks there is no access?" If they become really aware that 
there is access, then it becomes just another stage of performance but it's 

JS: Are any other media using this, like tabloids and private TV channels 
or not? 

BS: Yes, I think there is sort of a paparazzi interest and voyeurism in this, and 
I'm not aware of any programs that are using it. In that way humiliation 
always sells well, so seeing someone humiliated by having makeup put on or 
kind of embarrassing themselves is always appealing to the baser instincts of 
TV. I think one thing that was interesting after the election was that there was 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 248 

an article that reported that the Clinton White H ouse was monitoring the 
satellite TV feeds through the Department of Defense. They were able to 
intercept and downlinl< network news stories or the satellite feed of the new 
story before it was broadcast in C linton's first days in office. T his was a tech- 
nique that had started during the campaign when the C linton campaign had 
intercepted the satellite feeds of George Bush so they would get George 
Bush's commercial before it had aired and then they would have a potential 
to create a response to the commercial before it had been on broadcast tele- 
vision. There's also an interesting episode in the tape where a technician is 
talking to Al Gore's wife Tipper Gore and the technician explains to Tipper 
that they use the satellite feeds to ©(amine the crowds as almost a form of 
crowd control, so the Clinton campaign would watch the satellite feed of a 
Clinton rally and the camera would pan the audience as almost like a sur- 
veillance camera and they would be able to identify people who might be pro- 
testers or people who might want to disrupt the image in some way and then 
the people watching the satellite feed would call the rally and tell them, "See 
that guy there, edge him out of the frame" or "M ove him out." 


CAE: M oving in the other direction, are there ways that the consumer can 
send out signals that would disrupt or jam satellite communications? 

CN: It's impossible to override a transmission with your own picture using 
consumer equipment, but it is easy to disrupt a transmission with noise and 
snow. T he best noise generator that a consumer owns is a microwave oven. 
A microwave has 600 watts of power; it works at a frequency that is below 
satellite, but on the other hand it uses a microwave generator that produces 
a tremendous amount of noise and is very unstable; it doesn't keep on its 
center frequency U sing a properly sized dish and the inside of a microwave 
properly aligned, you could cause disruption to TV signals in the form of 
snow, a rolling picture, or skewed audio. It wouldn't totally disrupt the signal, 
but it would cause objectionable interference [a term used by H BO to refer 
to the drop in audio and picture quality that occurs when an alien signal gets 
into one-sixtieth of their power range). H owever, since it works on a wide 
range of frequencies, you would also disrupt other satellite communications, 
like military or weather signals 

CAE: H aveyou experimented with this technique? 

C N : 0 nly on a theoretical level, and on a physical level of seeing how hard 
it would be to get the microwave generating device mounted, and that's easy 
But I have never turned it on. 

CAE: Are there other methods in the realm of possibility? 

C N : Sure; marine radar on boats, or the market for used radar equipment, 
would be good places to get equipment for such a project. Such equipment 
would take some technical expertise to use. 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 249 

CAE: I sthe information availablefor someone willing to research these tech- 

C N : I n a way. You have to put two and two together. T he information about 
objectionable interference, how to create it, and the equipment it tal<esto do 
it is not public information. I did find some information, but the person who 
published it no longer lives in the U .5. H e is under threat from the N ational 
Security Agency and H BO. He can't come back into the U.S. H is name is 
Bob C oop, J r See what you can find on him. 

CAE: Did he write for magazines? 

CN : Yeah, but just freelance. There is a bool< called T he H idden Signals of 
Satellite Television, an excellent book by Tom Herrington and Bob Coop. It 
tells you how to tie into telephone satellites, audio subcarriers, and business 

CAE: Once again we are in extremely illegal territory— you could create 
enough disruption that there would be motivation for various security agen- 
cies to come after you. 

CN: Sure. 

CAE: How traceable is jamming? 

C N : You would want to jam 6 gigahertz— the same frequency that the tele- 
phone company uses So if you are in the pathway of one of these landlined 
microwave transmissions, and they could ^nchronize the satellite jam with 
the landline signal, they would have an approximate geographic location 
with which they could locate the origin of the jam. Or if you were in the 
flight path of an airport, that would be a second way But it would be like 
finding a needle in a haystack from a hardware standpoint. 

CAE: So in order to reduce the chances of tracing, and so as not to jam sig- 
nals that you wouldn't want to jam, such as medical communications, you 
would want to go to an outlying area. 

CN: That would be good. If you had a clear radius of around a hundred 
miles Research the area through the FCC and you could find a clear grid. 




DATEFRI, 25 JULY, 1997 17:01:36 +0200 (MET DST) 

Makrolab is a research station up on the Lutterberg, ten kilometers from 
K assel. It is an autonomous solar- and wind- powered communication and sur- 
vival tent, full of equipment. One night I went there to find out about the first 
results of the project. 

G L : C ould you explain us what kind of interception equipment you have here? 

M P: You must have special decoding software to work with shortwave digital 
transmissions and different modulations All that you hear now is different kind 
of H F modems or encoders Teleprinters that use different standards. A lot of 
it is encrypted and there are specific NATO and Russian systems with specific 
baud rates that are almost impossible to decode. It is not like weather services 
or stuff like that, it's much more complex and hidden and there's no readily 
available information on it. When you hear and identify a baud rate of 81 or 
73 or 96 p.e., than it is probably some NATO transmission and you know that 
you cannot get the message But there's other systems that are very easily 
decodable or even voice services that are usually not scrambled. W hat we hear 
now is p.e. information about the weather over the Atlantic, the Shannon vol- 
met for the air traffic flying toward Europe. On another channel we hear 
Stockholm Aero, and H F aeronautical station for transatlantic and transpolar 
routes What we can decode quite easily istheSELCAL signals transmitted by 
aircraft, together with their position, wind, temperature, and fuel status With 
the shortwave setup we have it is of course also possible to transmit, and every 
night I try to talk with somestations^ yesterday it was Estonia and Belarus In 
the past two days it was M ir packet radio time, three times a day and more. 
We try to get the M ir signals when it over flies Europe. Asyou know M ir was 
in trouble, but now they repaired their electricity circuit, and today th^ were 
resting, communicating with radio amateurs of the world. 

BS: 0 n the other machine we are receiving signals in the L-Band around 1.5 
gigahertz. It is a communications receiver. It could be use for mobile phones, 
but they are mostly regionally located. We were specially interested in crossing 
boarders and boundaries Across five countries or more, like INMARSAT, 
which is a satellite telephone system, briefcase size. Maybe you saw Peter 
Arnett using this during the Gulf War, speaking to CN N. There are still ves- 
tiges of thelNMARSAT system that are analog-based, which do not require 
any special digital decompression. So herein Germany you could be listening 
to America, Ireland, or Tehran. This is where communications start to get 
interesting, where the medium does what it does best, which is communicate. 

Segun pur teorial resone es ya inter 
katolikisme e protestantisme ke 
exista li grand skisme in li kristanaro. 
In li dogmati opiniones fundamental li 
diferos es extremim poki inter li kato- 
likisme e li ortodoxia. Les [they] relate 
primim li doktrine pri purgatorie e li 
famosi "filioque"— tum es li interesan- 
ti kontroverso pri ob li sankti splrite 
emana anke fro li filio o fro li patro 
solim. Ma, sat stranji, studio del ekle- 
sial historie revela ke non es li dogma 
ma li traditione kel krea heresianes. 
Inter li kristanismen praktikal praktiso 
in lun [its] luterani e in lun katoliki 
forme exista nul difero. Por ambes 
ortodoxia kontrastim representa sin 
irgi duto absolutim stranjeri religione. 
Li westeuropani kristanisme es super 
omnum eti [ethical], ratio nalisti e 
intelektual. Li antiqui filosofia, li 
medieval skolastike, li renesans- 
humanisme, li reformatione e li jesuit- 
al etike ha stampa li kristanisme, 
chake segun sen manere. Segun ke 
on aksepta li europani kulture e li 
europani etike, on mus pro tum anke 
aksepta li kristanisme. Kultivat e eti 
pagane in li moderni europa es pur 
paradoxe. Porta es pagane, on mus 
retrovada en [into] la barbarstadie— 
tum es en ti kulture, ke! existad in 
europa ante li introduktione del kris- 
tanisme. In li ortodoxi kristanisme 
non exista dis probleme. Li ortodoxia 
have null filosofial o intelektual tradi- 
tione, null reformatores e nul etikal 
teoriistes. Lu have dogma e ritu, 
incense e ikones, ma lu non determi- 
na li homesen pensado e non kontak- 
ta kun lesen intelektual kulture. Ke dis 
primitiv kristanisme povud transfor- 
ma li marxisti materiaiisme en aminim 
partim idealisti idee, es pro tum abso- 
lutim nonpensabli. Ma sembia kon- 
trastim ke li rusi marxisme in manere 
sat komodi e simpli pove nihilisa 
desagreabli konkurante. Un tre primi- 
tiv idealisti idee bli suplanta da altri 
tali mem plu primitiv materialisti. 
Disum es li uni latere del traditionen 
metamorfose, kel li rusi bolshevisme 
representa. In nusen tempe rusia es 
separatfro li ceteri europa per abisme 
[abyss], kel es plu profundi kam 
irgitem antee. Rusia e westeuropa es 
du diferanti mondes, keles sempre 
plu isola es fro mutu. Rusia ha turna li 
dorse a europa e separa se resolutim 
e konsciosim fro irgi "infektione" de 
europani kulture. Plusum ve seku. 
[, Rusian 
Kombato Kontre Europa, Tue, 25 Aug 
1998 10:18:35 -0500 (CDT)] 


And where culture does what it does worst, which is communicate. We are 
investigating if the collision of these best and worst characteristics can create 
a interesting stage for intervening in the transnational flow of information. 

M P: What mal<esthisset of radio amateur gear perhaps specific is the context 
in which we are operating T he result is only becoming visible only after quite 
a long period of time and a period of reflection. We have just started. 

G L : C ould you compare the work with video feed with your current research 
on the audio spectrum? 

MP: In Europe there are less feeds What you get is pretaped material that is 
sent to different broadcasters I have been worl<ing with shortwave for a long 
time, since the early eighties Shortwave is the cheapest and most accessible 
way of communicating over long distances and still widely used. I think that 
almost everyone has the experience of suddenly hearing a female voice giving 
out four-letter codes for five hours on their own AM radio receiver. We listen 
to those here too and try to make some sense and basically map them. T here 
is information available on the internet about the frequencies secret services 
use, butthingsarechanging quickly in that world. And basically all posted data 
isalready old data. Audio and data traffic on SW is still not so accessible, com- 
pared to video, where you just hook your TV up to a satellite receiver and a 
dish and there you go. 

G L : Brian, you experienced the closing of the open video channels M ost of it 
is now encrypted. T his is also happening in the audio spectrum. Do you see 
the same patterns occurring there? 

BS: T he open windows are slowly closing. It is a unique opportunity to have 
one last glimpse at the curve of the analog spectrum before it closes forever. 
Analogue seems to be more natural, curved, not binary, with less protection for 
the information contained on these channels 

G L : So we have to move than and crack the digital spectrum. 

M P: T he big game is to move forward to digital domains A complete set of 
new knowledge is needed. We heard rumors that digital communications for 
example banking information, were cracked. That is illegal and basically a 
criminal offense, but it tells a lot about the safety of our own data being trans 
mitted and retransmitted over the networks T he encryption that is currently 
used by states in diplomacy is very hard to decrypt. You must have the key 
that's it. Intelligence services are working more on getting the keys than 
decrypting T he human is the weak element of the chain, not the signal any- 

[See <>.] 



DATE: MON, 12 OCT 1998 01:16:59 +0100 

1. We live in an era when the dominant mode of politics is systems analysis 
Power has been given over to a series of badly animated white-shirt techni- 
cians who deliver fault reports and problem fixes that can be answered only 
with an "OK." All the control and trustworthiness of Norton Utilities is 
claimed for a bunch of frightened useless pilots gibbering out of control at 
the k^board of a system they no longer understand. In this context it is 
essential for artists and others to synthesize an unformattable world. 

2. The art world loves digital art because— like itself— there is a large sub- 
merged part of it that is invisible to the viewing public and only ever read by 
interpretative machines Digital art is an autonomous field with its own 
opportunities, norms, and institutions It understands that the distinction 
between the fields is necessary in order to maintain the integrity and thor- 
oughness of both fields For all artists it is imperative that they maintain the 
field in which they work as an autonomous sphere. T he strength of a specif- 
ic field can be measured precisely by the degree to which participants recog- 
nize the contributions of their peers and therefore develop each others rich- 
ness in specific capital. T he collapse of discipline can be measured precisely 
by the degree to which heterogeneous elements are able to exert force with- 
in or upon it. 

3. Jeff Koons recently described the patterns produced in the interrelations 
of basic, repeated units, motifs, forms, colors, in his sculptures constructed of 
variegated patterns of boxed basketballs as a basic form of artificial intelli- 
gence. M ainstream art has already begun to incorporate the terminology 
and methodologies of digital cultures as a way of talking about itself and 
finding sympathetic refrains within a wider culture 

4. The art world loves digital art because it reminds the art world of the lim- 
its of its knowledge and the wisdom to be found in the open, nonprejudicial 
contemplation of the unknown. Likewise it is always useful to have a rela- 
tively large amount of the unknown to call upon in the event of a vague 
legitimation crisis In the past it has been proven good insurance to have a 
few unknown things knocking about in the rear. Graffiti, macrame, female 
artists, and other minor genres have all played their part in the past. 

5. Large prestigious art museums with marble foyers love web-based art 
because it implicitly solves some of the problems of distribution for non- 
gallery-oriented work that were faced comparably by video art. Because the 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 253 

web guarantees at least some kind of circulation, this frees them from the 
embarrassment of undergoing the ritualsthey are forced to undergo on behalf 
of artists thoughtless enough to produce painting, sculpture, or installation. 
Given the medium's self-sufficiency, widely promoted, attentively curated 
exhibitions with all their bacl<ground maneuvering, public attention, critical 
discussion, historicization machinery high artists fees, and other negative 
influences on the pure essence of artistic creation can all be avoided, leaving 
the worl< to be safely ignored. 

For similar reasons, those who are interested in reading M arx without illu- 
sions believe that the Fragment on M achins in the Grundrisse has important 
implications for technology and art. H ere, M arx suggests that what he terms 
"general intelligence"— the general social knowledge or collective intelli- 
gence of a society in a given historical period, particularly that embodied in 
"intelligent" machines— reaches a decisive point of contradiction when 
actual value is created more on the basis of the knowledge and procedures 
embedded into these machines than in simple human labor: thus freeing dig- 
ital artists from having to exist. 0 r at least freeing them from being any less 
cheap and infinitely reproducible than their work or their equipment. 

6. T he art world loves digital art because someone other than Royal Society 
of Portrait Painters has to take the conventions of pictorial representation 
into the future. While virtual worlds might still be to the mid-nineties what 
Roger Dean album covers were to the mid-seventies, the onward march of 
technology will one day surely permit an upgrade-obedient artist to produce 
a final form of perfection: an utter conformity to perceptual mechanisms 
whose perspectival instructions permit viewing only by the most perfected of 
subjects At this sublime moment being empties in entirety onto a computer 
and thus perhaps allows isolation on a hard drive to be stored or destroyed. 

7. T he artist waits in ambush for the unique moments when an unrecogniz- 
able world reveals itself to them. They pounce on these little grains of noth- 
ingnesslikea beast of prey. It is the moment of full awakening, of union and 
of absorption and it can never be forced. T he artist never formulates a plan. 
I nstead they balance and weigh opposing forces, flexions, marks, events, dis- 
tribute them in a sort of heavenly layout, always with plenty of space 
between, always alternating between the heat of integration and the coolness 
of critical distance, always with thecertitudethatthereisno end, only worlds 
within worlds ad infinitum, and that wherever one left off, one had created a 

The sublimation of technique to the advantage of a separate category 
known as creation is consistent between all sections of art. Programmers, 
technicians and other people are glad to work hard to make the realization 
of the vision of the artist possible. Providing such freedom for the artist is 
essential because in this way providence always takes victory over ego. 

8. Because art that is not solely about content, but that is multiply reflexive, 
concerned with materials, that is about the lusters and qualities of light, 
about the tonality of certain gestures, about modes and theaters of enunci- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 254 

ation refuses to make a strict separation between creation and teclinique. 
Concept and execution fold in and out of eacli otiier, blurring the categori- 
cal imperatives of rule by the head or by the dead. T he most powerful art, 
digital art, art that is despite itself digital is, regardless of the context that 
codes it and from which it escapes, derived in this way precisely from hook- 
ing into an expanded compositional synthesis 

9. A multitude of currents of heterogeneity destabilize digital art's status as 
an autonomous field. M ost banally this occurs in the production of art that 
takes the needs of sponsors so to heart that it is indissociable from them. 
H eterogeneity can also disrupt the autonomy of a field, and thus its internal 
self-evolving richness, when it comes in the form of interpretation: in lazy 
journalistic work whose primary concern is the humorous gratification of 
what it presumes are its audiences' prejudices; in works that are diagram- 
matically preformatted by pre-existing critical criteria; or— most important- 
ly— in works whose relationship with certain flows of words amplifies both. 

10. Both fields, art and digital art, attempt to control what art and artists (and 
by implication those people or practices defined as being outg'de those 
terms), should do and what they should be called. T his is simply as a neces- 
sity for their maintenance and development. At the same time, even their 
own historical emergence is or was dependent on the eventual impossibility 
of such control. T hose moments at which that impossibility is made concrete 
are what produce artists worthy of the name, as well as those to whom the 
word means nothing. Paradoxically this very impossibility is what art and 
digital art claim as grounding their ability to speak, to be paid attention. 1 1 is 
only when they lividly and completely fail to betray that claim that art 
becomes worthy of anything but indifference. 



)ATE: SUN, 14 JUN 1998 21:42:38 +0100 

I am attending a smart cheese and wine party hosted by the Arts Council 
and one of their corporate sponsors when it is announced that the director 
of a well-l<nown N orth A merican art center is present and is lool<ing for new 
proposals for their artists fellowship program. I have an idea that could do 
with some "institutional support," so I decide to forego the race for the vol- 
au-vent and cross the room to introduce myself. I begin to explain my excit- 
ing new method of image synthesis but do not get very far before she makes 
her position clear. "Is your project internet-based?" she inquires "No..." "Is 
it multimedia?" "Err.. .no..." "Well those are the only projects we do now." In 
the corner of my eye I can see someone skewering the last savory parcel. 
In 1995 the grand daddy of electronic arts prizes, the Prix Ars Electronica, 
decided to drop its computergraphik still-image category after suggestions in 
previous jury statements of a "tiredness of creativity" and speculations on 
whether thisform had "outlived itself." That year it wasduly replaced by the 
new world wide web category In addition, the computer animation section 
became increasingly dominated by special-effects feature films selected by a 
jury made up largely of members of commercial production companies 
Amidst timid jury statements questioning the wisdom of having to compare 
half a dozen H ollywood films made by Industrial Light and M agic with a 
short sequence made by a lone artist working out of their bedroom, Prix Ars 
reinforced the feeling that artists had gradually abandoned "older" forms of 
"new" media for the safety of emerging "cutting-edge" technologies before 
they too are "professionalized." 

T he I SEA '98 revolution symposium distinctly positioned itself at the fore- 
front of radical arts practice, brazenly featuring this quote on its call for pro- 
posals— "the opposition of writer and artist is one of the forces that can use- 
fully contribute to the discrediting and overthrow of regimes that are 
destroying, along with the right of the proletariat to aspire to a better world, 
every sentiment of nobility and even of human dignity." Against this heady 
rhetoric, the invitation for exhibition proposals to ISEA '98 contained no 
mention of either still image work nor film and video art in its list of entry 
formats, presumably relegating such outdated forms to an earlier era of 
"prerevolutionary" practice 

So we are left to infer, perhaps, that a new medium can only sustain a peri- 
od of true artistic innovation and challenge for a limited time before it is 
exhausted of radical ideas and has to leave center stage T he new incarna- 
tion of progressive arts practice then rises into the sky on the wings of blue- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 256 

sky research labs while its decaying predecessors have their bones picl<ed 
clean of creative meat by the vultures of venture capitalism. Film art begat 
video art begat computer art begat interactivity begat the web. T his cycle of 
birth and death has now assumed a familiar logic— artists need not worry as 
the routes of access to media production are closed off by the mainstream 
commissioning policies of the commercial industry T hey need only wait for 
the next wave of media to appear and then to seize that window of critical 
intervention to undermine capitalist social relations before the corporations 
know what's hit them. The only article of faith that this requires is that tech- 
nological progress march inexorably onward, generating the raw material 
that can be used to subvert its own previously recuperated incarnations 
Political innovation requires technical innovation. 
The theoretical justification for this attitude is given in terms of art as a 
"transformative practice" or aiming at a "functional transformation." It is a 
direct reference to Walter Benjamin's famous materialist theory of revolu- 
tionary art practice. T his is expressed most concisely in his "T he Author as 
Producer" lecture of 1934, in which he formulates it in terms of a distinc- 
tion between an artwork that supplies a social production apparatus and an 
art work that tries to a change a social production apparatus What this 
means in effect is that it is not enough for, let's say, a writer to criticize the 
capitalist system in words if he or she continues to use a capitalist form of 
cultural production to publish those words Benjamin warns that bourgeois 
culture is very capable of absorbing all kinds of revolutionary ideas without 
at any time allowing those ideas to threaten its power. I nstead of publishing 
political arguments in the usual academic form of books and scholarly arti- 
cles, the socialist writer should use new forms that change the writer's pro- 
duction relations, especially their relation with their audience, the proletari- 
at. The newspaper, pamphlet, poster, or radio broadcast were the most 
appropriate media in Benjamin'stime because they could be used to reach a 
mass audience and avoid patterns of traditional cultural consumption that 
were rooted in class structure. What matters most in the political effective- 
ness of an art work is not the "tendency" of its content but the effect on pro- 
duction relations of its "technique" 

In contemporary times this translates into an oppositional arts practice that 
uses the most advanced materials of its time to demonstrate in a concrete 
way the direction in which society should be progressing. It challenges cur- 
rently accepted notions of production, authorship, and creativity by using 
new media to show how electronic distribution changes exhibition, interac- 
tivity changes authorship, sampling changes creativity. Technology is shown 
to possess the power to restructure these production relations and alter what 
people had previously taken for granted. And whenever production relations 
threaten to ossify into restrictive ideologies as newspapers are merged by 
press barons and radio airwaves are regulated then they can be blasted apart 
again by the socializing potential of each further technical development that 
can be applied to the mass media. All of which isfine, except for the fact that 
this is not entirely what Benjamin meant. 

Later on in his lecture, Benjamin goes on to discuss some explicit examples 
of the effects of "technical innovation" on the political function of culture 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 257 

H e use quotes from E isler to show that concert-hall music has entered a cri- 
sis caused by the advent of recording technologies, which change the rela- 
tion between performer and audience But we are told that this is not suffi- 
cient by itself to transform music into a politically potentform— the addition 
of other elements like words is also necessary to help overcome the breal<ing- 
down of culture into isolated specializations that occurs under capitalism. 
And this eventually leads it to the form that Benjamin'sfinds most exempla- 
ry— Brecht's E pic T heater. 

What is technically innovative about Brecht's theater? It is not cinema, is is 
not radio, it is not mass media. But it does change the relationship with its 
audience, not by using film or broadcasting technology directly but by 
adopting their "techniques." T he principle technique is montage, the ability 
of modern media to fragment perception and then recombine it. I n Brecht's 
theater this is absorbed in the form of "interruptions" to the dramatic action 
in order to create "conditions" presented to the spectator that require a 
"dialectical" response. In this way montage is employed as an "organizing 
function" as opposed to a "modish technique" used merely to stimulate the 
viewer's fascination. So we see that the actual works that Benjamin is inter- 
ested in use new techniques at a variety of levels which can include different 
media, perceptual modes, "organizing functions" and aesthetic considera- 
tions Contrary to using the latest technological means, Brecht is described 
instead of returning to the ancient origins of theater, turning the stage into 
a simple podium for exposing present behavior and conditions New tech- 
nique does not mean new technology 

Today we see digital artists driven onward to become multimedia artists to 
become net artists and in their wake they leave a trail of unresolved experi- 
ments and restagings unable to develop an idea through before the next soft- 
ware upgrade is announced. As if "earlier" forms of new media had been 
"outlived," no longer able to express the forms of subjectivity that are now 
experienced. But by picking up any magazine or observing any street advert 
we can clearly see that on the contrary commercial design and photography 
has continued to exploit and push the still-image form way past the stage 
where many artists abandoned it in their move on to more "revolutionary" 
media. Through this work we can still see the potential of continuing 
advances in the standard commercial digital software packages like 
Photoshop, which has unfortunately now taken on the status of an office 
desktop accessory with many artists T he artists that have continued to work 
in areas that are almost unfunded have shown how much further image and 
print media can go in producing their own newspapers fly posters fax art, 
graffiti and underground cinema and in experimenting with alternative 
methods of distribution. 

Similarly in moving image production, developments in digital image syn- 
thesis are amongst the most advanced technical accomplishments in the 
world today but are only ever seen as"special effects" in feature films or pro- 
mos a "modish" or stylistic use of the medium as the new-asalwaysthe- 
same It seems almost an accepted fact that the sophisticated logics created 
to structure image events such as dynamic simulation or motion capture can 
only ever be used for blowing up space ships or for the latest shoot-em-up 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 258 

computer game. It is as though they are perceived as so cioseiy aligned with 
the interests of Soho art directors that they can never be quite new enough 
to escape from its orbit. I nstead it appears far easier for arts organizations to 
develop schemes to support worl< made for a particular piece of hardware or 
software they have just seen on Tomorrow's World than to look one layer below 
the surface to ask what techniques, like montage in the thirties, are likely to 
have an impact on the function of manyformsof practice. For itissurely the 
case that technical and aesthetic developments in the basic manipulation of 
sound and image are applicable to a wide range of media generally Arts 
centers fall over themselves to attract work designed for the latest internet 
software, VR environment, or multimedia platform but are not willing to 
consider projects in image- or sound-making that could radically alter the 
possibilities of all three. 

T here is an argument to the effect that by being involved in the early stages 
of a new medium that artists can exert some influence over the direction in 
which it develops By getting in first before mainstream genre forms have had 
the time to become entrenched it could be possible to indicate alternative 
patterns, but it is still very difficult for artists to work as maverick researchers 
against a corporation's ultimate agenda. This approach also implies that 
media will inevitably develop into a single optimum commercial form with- 
out any further hope of an intervention, a kind of commercial determinism. 
In fact, the computer industry seems to be distinguished for its continuing 
volatility just when everyone thinks the dust has settled. 
I am reminded of a story related by Graham Weinbren, the artist who pio- 
neered the use of interactive cinema in the late eighties H e and his brother 
had developed a system that allowed for real-time transitions between differ- 
ent story streams and was demonstrating one of his first pieces to an audi- 
ence of industry professionals They were duly impressed by the speed and 
fluidity of the system and wanted to know the technical specifications 
H owever, when Weinbren revealed that it was based on an old 386 PC, a 
machine already obsolete even in those days, their interest immediately 
cooled. The problem was that the logic of the commercial industry demand- 
ed that new products were always premised on the notion that they embod- 
ied nothing but the latest in technology and manufacturing. To revert back 
to a previous "generation" of machines would have introduced an uncom- 
fortable contradiction into that philosophy U nfortunately this is also a phi- 
losophy that has now been taken on by arts organizations that feel that here 
is an easy way to align themselves with progressive media simply by pointing 
to new black boxes 

So artists find themselves running to keep still, trying to keep at bay the panic 
that they will be left behind in the latest high-tech funding opportunities and 
consigned to the back room of old media. C ondemned to chase a never-end- 
ing succession of software versions and hardware upgrades, their practice is 
now so "transformative" that it never gets past the round of demos and beta 
tests By becoming fixated on the receding horizon of technological devel- 
opments the space for consolidating what has been learned is lost. T he 
avant-garde artist trying to lever an oppositional advantage at the fringes of 
advanced materials is replaced by the techno artist-entrepreneur providing 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 259 

research and development services for corporate sponsors T here is no rea- 
son to develop an idea beyond the point at which it can be sold. 
During the seventies and most of the eighties, artists who wanted to use 
computers were obliged always to be working at the frontiers of technology 
because there was practically no where else to be Computing machinery was 
so limited that in a real sense the machine was the artworl< because you 
would always be using it at the very extremes of its abilities Such was the 
desire to escape these restrictions that faster and bigger architectures were 
eagerly sought after and resulted in the feeling that to produce the best art 
you needed the best computers Nowadays, this principle clearly sounds 
erroneous, partly due to the fact that desktop computers are so powerful that 
the "best" in computing is accessible to the point of being unavoidable. But 
it has been surreptitiously replaced by a "softer" version that implies that to 
work in the newest media you need the newest technology 
T he effect is to divert attention from innovations in currently used media by 
implying that artists can only retain their radical credentials by concentrat- 
ing on the "cutting edge" of new technology And, surprise, surprise, it is 
exactly this mythic trajectory of technology that commercial companies 
depend on to motivate the consumption of their endless releases of new 
products that allow you do the same thing more often. Both are now united 
in their quest for a K iller Artfor the Killer App. 





DATE: SUN, 21 DEC 1997 20:33:23 +0100 

In the December issue of W ired magazine we find amidst the pre-Christmas 
consumer spectacle of seductive scanners, professional sports watches, 
expensive liquors and, scantily clad savvy female computer nerds, a seduc- 
tive spectacle of another shape T he current offering is a glossy close-up of 
the smirking bearded face of Heath Bunting, net.artist from London, and 
one of the founders of the international movement. 
Bunting is best known amongst the digirati for his intended subversive actions 
and attacks on corporate and consumer culture Attacking professionalism of 
all kinds he was quickly scooped up by the very professional Catherine David 
for 1997's Documenta X , the prestigious international art exhibition in K assel, 
G ermany I n a manner astonishingly akin to D ocumenta X , with its redundant 
revisits to seventies conceptual art. Bunting's naive stance revealed his ignorance 
of hard lessons learned twenty years ago by less inexcusably innocent precur- 
sors H ad he been paying attention, he could have learned sooner that there is 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 260 

no outside in corporate consumer culture or more importantly, that "outside" 
is just another target market. Well this December, has 
apparently learned with a vengeance; H e has recently accepted a paid position 
as Senior Computer Artist at the Banff Centre in Canada. The logical next 
step, geographically and ideologically, will be senior computer consultant at 
M icrosoft. 

From the pages of W ired we gaze at Bunting's face, a tastefully consumable 
icon floating against a white background. As Artist of the H our, he appears 
ironic, cool, and rebellious, gazing at the reader knowingly eyes narrowed, 
lips pursed— as if to suggest that his subversion could somehow transcend 
the lifestyles magazine he is now decorating. But what exactly is being sub- 
verted, or more precisely what are we being sold? 
I n W ired, the hot new item of consumption these days is the subversive artist. 
H ot W ired and W ired have taken on the badly needed position in the U.S. as 
patrons of the digital arts T hey have been more friendly and inviting to dig- 
ital arts than the art world ever has been. In ArtForum, for example, as the 
token digital critic I am occasionally offered a column, always already script- 
ed within the margins, of the magazine and of the art world. T here has been 
much theorizing of the relationship of the margins to the center particular- 
ly from the net as a marginal, suburban strip mall, in relation to the art 
world's urban center marketplace Yet much of this theorizing comes from a 
passive relationship to the digital media upon which the theorists and artists 
are commenting. This was not the case previously with Bunting, although 
with this latest transgression, or rather absorption, we see how quickly one 
can be seduced to the sell out. Demo or die! 

W ired, unscrupulous entrepreneurs that they are have taken to heart their 
forefather lessons, Phillip M orris and Saatchi and Saatchi, to name only two 
of the most licentious. T hey fully understand just how useful a public rela- 
tions device the arts can be. 

Bunting, "Sage of Subversion," we are instructed with no apparent tongue in 
cheek, is "fucking with commodities" Easier said than done, coming from a 
magazine that has already taken home the prize for glorifying the wild wild 
west of free-market computer economics Cool and radical in its approach to 
consumption, why not invite Bunting to play act two to patron saint M arshall 
M cLuhan: another clever Commonwealth citizen with a palpable soundbite? 
No less ludicrous is the additional label Wired ascribes to Bunting, 
"M ichelangelo of the Digital age" In an age of postmechanical simulation, 
the notion of the hand in art is no longer nostalgic, it is positively reactionary 
To proclaim the possibility of a masterly mark of the digital age is a suggestion 
seeping with egotism and nostalgia for masterpieces whose poverty have been 
unmasked ever since that fateful day in 1917 when the patron saint of con- 
temporary art signed a mass-produced urinal. 

T he cultural loop— from subversion to assimilation to absorption— revisits net 
art quicker, smoother and more quietly than ever before. T he ride begins with 
net production and distribution and ends as hard-copy pages spouting com- 
puter consumption and techno-utopianism. Bunting becomes a complicit 
pawn in W ired magazine's naughty boy gameof— ever so gently— slapping the 
hand that feeds it. 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 261 

And finally we must ask the sad but obvious question. What is Bunting sub- 
verting? The answer is perhaps the greatest irony of all. He is, we are 
informed by Wired, "wreal<ing havoc on corporate Web sites" and "over- 
turning capitalistic ideals" Anyone searching for Adidas and N il<e is given a 
pointer to the competitors site So in essence. Buntings "subversion" is to 
participate in free marl<et economics, in ending monopolies and giving busi- 
ness to the competitors Capitalism 101 anyone? Cheques for tuition may be 
sent via <http:/ / sl<int>. 


DATE: TUE, 29 SEP 1998 19:20:58 -0400 

"External progress; internal regression. External rationalism; internal irrationality. 
In this impersonal and overdisciplined machine civilization, so proud of its objec- 
tivity, spontaneity too often takes the form of criminal acts, and creativeness 
finds its main outlet in destruction." — Lewis Mumford 

Evol<ing the pivotal essay by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, "TheAporiasof 
the Avant-Garde," seems necessary in a time compulsively destabilized by 
its woeful lack of interest in critical history and its dubious fascination with 
cynical history It explains why pleonasm and redundancy haunts too much 
of an emerging and seemingly rootless artistic generation weaned on glib 
"negative dialectics," virtual "one-dimensionality" and hip cybertechnics 
U nwilling, or unable, to invoke sublation within the politics of representa- 
tion as an act of differentiation, the lure of "the culture of the copy" (to use 
H illel Schwartz's phrase) seems to hook its adherents into hustled solipsism 
and faint theory U nwitting casualties of thede-ethical surfaces of the pres- 
ent, they inevitably skid into cultural memory erased as rapidly as the 
refresh rate of their screens or the release of their "send" keys. Aporia, 
though, isn't just a signifier of implausible or reactionary dialectical unre- 
solvability, but one of permanent contradiction negating the reciprocity 
uselessly delimiting decidability (no less creativity). In this regard, 
Enzensberger's essay is clear: "The argument between the partisans of the 
old and those of the new is unendurable, not so much because it drags on 
endlessly unresolved and irresoluble, but because its schema itself is worth- 
less.. .T he choice it invites is not only banal, it is a priori factitious" Yet a 
facetious discourse persists in the guise of faux subversion, indifferent mis- 
chief, opportunistic fraud, deconstituted history or irresponsible defamation 
perpetrated through vain electronic deconstructionsof identity "theorized" 
in nonsensical notions of schizophrenaesthetics more deluded than deleuez- 
ian, more subjectivized by pathologies of smug hubris than by ingenious 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 262 

sabotage. To this end, the "avant-garde," as Enzensberger observed, "must 
content itself with obliterating its own products." 
And even if, as is obvious, the notion of the "avant-garde" is only summar- 
ily relevant to issues of electronic media, it does evol<e a set of historical 
issues about artistic production, its presumptions and the long-discredited 
bourgeois tendency to tolerate adversaries in the service of the culture 
industries It's surely evident that there is a stark difference between "neces- 
sary ferment" and critical practice. This issue is well approached in Paul 
M ann'sbook, T heT ha)ry-Death of theAvant-Garde, and has been exposed over 
and over and over again by the trendy retailing of subversion. M ann writes: 

There has never been a project for delegitimating cultural practice that did not 
turn immediately, or sooner, into a means of legitimation. The widely disseminat- 
ed awareness of this unlimited legitimacy has eroded the ruse of opposition. The 
death of the avant-garde might thus be the most visible symptom of a certain 
disease of the dialectic, a general delegitlmation of delegitimation. One might call 
It a crisis were It not for the fact that It announces an end to crisis theories of art. 
The crisis-urgency of the avant-garde repeated Itself so often, with such Intensi- 
ty and so little In the way of actual cataclysm, that It wore itself out. We are now 
inured to the rhetoric and market-display of crises. 

Even though the seventies, eighties, and nineties have demonstrated per- 
suasively that the commodification, deconstruction, and engineering of dis- 
sent are not disassociated from the marketplace of ideas, the persistence of 
a futile, and perhaps complicit, neo-avant-garde suggests that the lessons of 
art-world theory and economy haven't really been learned as they spill into 
electronic media in increasingly tidal waves 

I ndeed, the politics of subversion as intervention and the aesthetics of pro- 
motion share a fuzzy border that is crossed more frequently than admitted. 
I ndeed one might suggest that an aesthetic of subversion shadowed moder- 
nity's hopeless fascination with avant-gardism and now has been transmo- 
grified into a game of ego fulfillment played out in the spectacle of fiction- 
alized, illusory, purloined, or cyberized identities, a kind of triumph of 
"The Data Dandy" whose presence was articulated in the Adilkno essay: 

The data dandy surfaces in the vacuum of politics which was left behind once 
the oppositional culture neutralized itself In a dialectical synthesis with the sys- 
tem. There he reveals himself as a lovable as well as false opponent, to the great 
rage of politicians, who consider their young pragmatic dandyism as a publicity 
tool and not necessarily as a personal goal. They vent their rage on the journal- 
ists, experts, and personalities who make up the chance cast on the studio floor, 
where who controls the direction is the only topic of conversation... The dandy 
measures the beauty of his virtual appearance by the moral Indignation and 
laughter of the plugged-ln civilians. It Is a natural character of the parlor aristo- 
crat to enjoy the shock of the artificial. 

Related issues have emerged in the writings of The Critical Art Ensemble 
(particularly T he E lectronic D isturbance). U nhinging the fictions of authority, 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 263 

they write cogently about rupturing tlie "essentialist doctrine" of the text 
while their interventions (some might say performances) into the sacrosanct 
territories of authority represent a provocation directed at both the worn tra- 
ditions of public sphere cultural politics and a recl<oning with the accelerat- 
ing implications of technologies for a generation inebriated with virtualiza- 
tion. But to the point of reactionary or regressive trends they write: 

Cultural workers have recently become increasingly attracted to technology as a 
means to examine the symbolic order... It is not simply because much of the work 
tends to have a "gee whiz" element to it, reducing it to a product demonstration 
offering technology as an end in itself; nor is it because technology is often used 
primarily as a design accessory to postmodern fashion, for these uses that are 
expected... Rather, an absence is most acutely felt when the technology is used 
for an intelligent purpose. Electronic technology has not attracted resistant cul- 
tural workers to other times zones, situations, or even bunkers used to express 
the same narratives and questions typically examined in activist art. 

T he spheres of activism are driven not by insidious ingenuity but by clearly 
delineated opposition. Nor are they sustained by incognito egos cloaked 
behind imperious and ambiguous intentionality. Activism, in short, is con- 
cerned with visibility and not subterfuge. This lesson hardly seems under- 
stood by wanna-be hackers whose trail might prove untraceable but who, 
nevertheless, (and in utter disregard of hacker integrity) leave forged evi- 
dence to certify or publicize their intrusions Less politics than gloating nar- 
cissism, this behavior seems all too symptomatic of the roguish (is that vogu- 
ish?) appeal of the rakish criminality in Natural Born Killers, Trainspotting, 
Gangsta Rap, or perhaps the ultimately pathetic imperatives revealed in Fast, 
Cheap and Out of Control. 

It is difficult too to ignore Peter Sloterdijk's irksome, but in this case useful, 
positioning in the Critique of Cynical Rason. In the introduction, Andreas 
H uyssen poses a series of questions emerging in Sloterdijk's brooding work: 
"What forces do we have at hand against the power of instrumental reason 
and against the cynical reasoning of institutional power?... How can we 
reframethe problems of ideology critique and subjectivity, falling neither for 
the armored ego of K ant's epistemological subject nor for the schizosubjec- 
tivity without identity, the free flow of libidinal energies proposed by D eleuze 
and G uattari? H ow can historical memory help us resist the spread of cyni- 
cal amnesia that generates the simulacrum of postmodern culture?" But 
Sloterdijk's argument is far more pertinent: "Cynicism is enlightened false 
consciousness. It is that modernized, unhappy consciousness, on which 
enlightenment has labored both successfully and unsuccessfully It has 
learned its lessons in enlightenment, but it has not, and probably was not 
able to, put them into practice. Well-off and miserable at the same time, this 
consciousness no longer feels affected by any critique of ideology; its false- 
ness is already buffered." "Cynicism," he says in the chapter titled "In 
Search of Lost C heekiness," prickles beneath the monotony" 
While itself invoking an enlightenment ethic, Sloterdijk's paean to moralities 
and tradition nevertheless stands as a form of diagnosis of the yet uncom- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 264 

fortable discourse of modern and postmodern positioning. Tlieorized in so 
many ways, the issues tliat seem most pertinent in the continuing (and now 
perliaps dated) opposition mostly concern a radically altered subject— one 
not merely at the reception end of authority. But the inverted hierarchy of 
subject/ authority is erroneous. And with the intervention of electronic 
media (with, among so many other things, its reconceptualization of both 
subjectivity and identity), the issue has often lapsed into virtualized sociolo- 
gies of sadly presumed notions of the self transgressed by "life on the 
screen." This, to use Huyssen's term "schizosubjectivity," lapses into re- 
essentialized categories by failing to understand the difference between iden- 
tity and subjectivity, no less between the self and its anecdotal other. T his 
astonishing disassociation leads into the possibility of a fugitive digital ethics 
whose contemptuous naivete seems more reckless than subversive, more pes- 
simistic than productive 

But the oscillations between self and other also suggests the avoidance of con- 
sequential psychological issues deeply affected by the development of elec- 
tronic technology and its history It is here that the distinction between schiz- 
ophrenia and "schizosubjectivity" can be considered in terms of behavior 
While there is little doubt that the unified notion of subjectivity collapsed in 
the hierarchies of modernity. What emerged are fragmented identities not 
salvaged in political nationalism, muddy text-based otherness, or in the aban- 
donment of subjectivity and the acceptance of questionable notions of 
agency and its relation to avatars This sort of dopey refusal (perhaps subli- 
mation), well articulated in Slavoj Zizel<'s recent writings (and particularly in 
the chapter "Cyberspace, or. The U nbearable Closure of Being," in the just 
published T he Plague of Fantasies and in Enjoy Your Symptom), is articulated in 
fraudulent, deceptive, or preemptive strategies that only serve to further dis- 
credit the politics of the politics of subversion. "Insisting on a false mask," he 
writes, "brings us nearer to a true, authentic subjective position than throw- 
ing off the mask and displaying our 'true face'. ..(a) mask is never simply 'just 
a mask' since it determines the actual place we occupy in the intersubjective 
symbolic network. Wearing a mask actually makes us what we feign to be.. .the 
only authenticity at our disposal is that of impersonation, of 'taking our act' 
(posture) seriously" This fundamental position cannot be trivialized by phony 
realizations or outlaw aesthetics Extended into the public sphere, there is 
nothing worse, or more revealing in cyberculture, than a hypocrite revolu- 
tionary whose relationship even with opposition has to be invented. 
Brecht wrote a great deal about "refunctioning," shifting the authority of 
extant material to expose its ideologies Surely this political mimicry joined 
with the Benjamin's loftily ambiguous and hopelessly redemptive aesthetic, 
fits into the trajectory of art— from Dadato Pop to Postmodern— by ration- 
alizing various formsof reproducibility repetition and appropriation aslegit- 
imate approaches that were both reflexive and creative. But these strategies 
were rooted in a form of "critical" consumption that clumsily persistsin elec- 
tronic culture. 

N 0 doubt that these strategies have also mutated into the cut-and-paste tech- 
niques (no less the cut-and-paste identities) of far too many artists involved 
with media. Very few of these techniques are confrontations whose parodic 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 265 

or satiric intent outdistances or demolislies its sources Isn't the goal of par- 
ody sublation? But tlie weal<ness, and sad pervaaveness, of a cavalier posi- 
tion does little to suggest that the shift into fragile digital communication 
technologies raises the stakes of far more than such worn notions of creativ- 
ity as will perpetuate themselves by evolving their own development. 
Nothing could be less interesting in a time of monolithic operating systems, 
algorithmic aesthetics, and the politics of virtualization than a shiftless, hol- 
low, and finally selfish positioning of the artist as a hapless subversive or, 
worse, the subversive as a hapless artist. Indeed, the linl< between cultish 
anonymity and subversive presence stril<esmeasa pitiable attempt to sustain 
vaguely modernistic notions of subjectivity behind the electronic veil of 
deconstructed— or better destabilized— identity or perhaps, more patheti- 
cally, self-styled celebrity 

[This essay was first published on January 20, 1998, at Reflec <h\i.p:l lit context/ reflex/ >.] 


DATE: MON, 19 JAN 1998 20:47:30 +0300 


Making "Agatha Appears" at Budapest C3, I recalled Metaforum III 
(Budapest, October, 1996). At that time I spoke of the internet being open 
for artistic self-expression, that the time had come to create net films, net sto- 
ries and so on, to develop a net language instead of using the web simply as 
a broadcast channel. And, of course, the sale of "My Boyfriend Came Back 
from the War" to Telepolice 0 n-Line. 
What is happening now, more than a year later? 
First: I still get messages saying: "Lookatmy new web movie" Following the 
link, I find Q uicktime or Shockwave moving images whose only value is to 
prove that plug-ins become more and more perfect and bring us closer and 
closer to home cinema. 

Second: N et art is still as cheap asa floppy For me, theintercoupling of these 
things is obvious 

Another thing is quite clear. Q uestions of what net art is and "does it actu- 
ally exist" appeared in 1996. Today almost every article devoted to this sub- 
ject still starts with the same sentences T hey have become more ornamen- 
tal than anything really looking for an answer. They are following a fashion, 
not real interest. 

All media festivals, exhibitions and conferences are now well decorated 
too: there are net art sections on event sites, some net artists and some 
beautiful games with the term "net art" itself. T hey are attractive and not 
expensive at all. 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 266 

It was a year of net art sales. And important to stress that artworks were 
much cheaper than ideas Variations on the theme "net artists don't need 
institutions" or "net art can exist without galleries or curators" were mostly 
welcomed by real galleries and institutions 

What else? A year ago "net art" asAltavista understood it, was all these sites 
devoted to art (galleriesof painters, photo artists., arch Ives of film and video, 
museums representing their collections on the net). N ow net art is supposed 
to be the same,, thatisto say: online galleriesof offline stuff plus 
a small group of artists close to N ettime or Syndicate or 7-11 mailing lists, 
and to each other. 

T hat's what one can see on the surface. W hat was going on inside? 
Nothing that could make feel that net artists existence means something in 
the world they create. 

A year ago it was so sweet to announce that art theory the art system, art 
commerce— all these are relics of the real art world system, a heritage to for- 
get, but in fact this statement only brought some variety to offline art insti- 
tutions, not an alternative. 


Developing a theory of its own could enhance the value of net art. At the 
moment it is understood in the context of media art, of computer art, of 
video art, of contemporary art, but not in the context of the internet: its aes- 
thetic, its structure, its culture. Works of net artists are not analysed in com- 
parison with one another We are always viewed from an external perspec- 
tive, a perspective that tries to place native online art works in a chain of arts 
with a long offline history and theory And this remains the interest: to place 
us, to phenomenalizeus, in the social sense of the word. Definitely you meet 
more interest to the phrase T he internet project than to its inner being, to the 
fact of online collaboration of artists from different countries than to their 
actual work. 

Again and again: "W hat is net art?" instead of (for example): "Browser inter- 
face in the structure of net art" or "Downloading time as a means of expres- 
sion in the works of Eastern European net artists" or "Frames and new win- 
dowsin net narration" or "D ifferent approaches to finding footage or servers" 
or "Domain names and 'under-construction' signs from 1995 to 1997." 
With pleasure I 'II take my words back if I 'm wrong, and with great pleasure 
I'd participate in such researches as a critic. 

In brief: With no theoretical support inside, net art meets only vulgar one- 
season interest from the outside world. T his wouldn't be a problem if it did- 
n't make things cheaper and that in some months all innovative experiments, 
new art forms and language will be buried as a last-season fashion. And this 
will happen already internally (N et art was born in the net and will definite- 
ly come back to die.) 


I n fact, while I was thinking what to write about internet art structures^ sev- 
eral net galleries appeared and some on-line festivals gave prizes to some 
artists. T his looks like the birth of a new world; maybe it is and the time to 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 267 

judge has not yet come, but it's not difficult to see destructive tendencies in 
tliese foundations Online galleries and exhibitions are nothing more than 
lists, collections of links 0 n one hand, it fits the nature of many-to-many 
communication; the internet itself is also only a collection of a lot of com- 
puters, and it worl<s 0 n the other hand, list by list compilation brings us to 
an archive situation, to the story about keeping and retrieving information. 
Online galleries only store facts and demonstrate that a phenomenon exists 
T hey neither create a space, nor really serve it. 

The same applies to festivals and competitions Even if they are intelligently 
organised they are not events in net life. M ostly they are not events at all but 
just the easiest and trendiest way to save money given for media events by 
funds or whatever. N ow that everybody knows the internet is our paradise on 
earth, the long-awaited world without borders, visas, flights, or hotels, it is 
the best way to make your event international. 

From my point of view, the most perceptive and valuable creative structures 
around are net artists co-projects and curated initiatives 0 r they could be, if 
they were not so closed and didn't provide an ironic distance to the idea of 
creating a system. 

In fact every net artist or group in the process of creating a work builds their 
own (and at the same time common, for everybody) system of self-presenta- 
tion and promotion, invents exhibiting spaces and events After all, it is in the 
nature of net art to build the net. But again and again the worlds you create 
easily become an exhibiting object at media art venues Something that 
could be invaluable tomorrow is sold for nothing today 


It is not only a problem of misunderstanding and misapprehension: I was 
told by art-sale-experienced net artists that since web space is physically 
cheaper than canvas or videotape, and since webpages are something that 
every schoolgirl can make on her school computer, pieces created and 
stored in the net will be cheaper than whatever made with the aid of more 
complicated techniques and knowledge. Sounds logical. Logical yet, until 
net art is an export product, not a point of prestige in the system of inter- 
net values not an item of commerce for those who invest money in the 
internet, for example 

Banks big companies or simply rich guys have always bought pieces of art 
for their collections or found it prestigious to sponsor artists Now they or 
their younger brothers spend enough money (at least in Russia) to be well 
represented in the net. Why not harness their desires? Why not advise them 
to collect, to buy and help develop the art of the next century? 
Details and demo next time. 

It's not only about money And generally the question of being paid for net 
art is no different to the question of payment on the net. Publishers compa- 
nies advertisers and everyone else in the world is scratching their heads 
about it. I talk about going further, exploring the net, not beeing prisoners of 
last year off line fashion. It's not really my dream, but I'd prefer if tomorrow 
new net artists would come and say: she made pieces good only for virtual 
offices what we do is real net art, underground, new wave, what ever. I ts bet- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 268 

ter than nobody will come (because where?) and only media critics will men- 
tion that once there was a period in media art, when some media artists 

experimented with computer nets 


DATE: WED, 19 AUG 1998 13:52:09 +0100 



You yawn, rub your ^es, and officially wake up. 
Swarm Spore Procurement Center, Endless Arsenal A sub-ground warren of 
war rooms, communication facilities and personnel quarters— an uneventful 
interpretation of a sixties vision of a germ-free adolescent future An acrid 
pherenomal white noise of amyl, sweat and semen echoes through the 
refiltered air, although the corridors are free of zealous young gene carriers 
You notice a door on the far western wall and approach it cautiously A sign 
reads stealth designs mentor/ protg re: room. 


Patriot Gains (Interference and Deception Unit) A spacious rest room com- 
prising nine toilet cubicles, two standard sickbay bunks, four nonstandard 
bunks, three handbasins, a communal shower alcove with nine faucets, and 
two imposing vitrines containing questionably acquired M ayan artifacts A 
doorway labeled "G 8" stands to the right of the cubicles 
Contract Specialist J 763-99-DY-S009 and RentBoy (he'sfinally legal!) are 
standing in front of the vitrines. RentBoy admires his reflection in the 
glass, tucking his street-wear camouflage netT-shirt into his too-tight reg- 
ulation strides. 

J 763-99-DY-S009 growls, "The Infestation Teams are getting restless. 
T hey've had it with your sustainable pulsing bullshit, your Art of War driv- 
el. I want that skanky little fucker brought into compliance now." 
RentBoy ceases his preening, saying, "It was agreed to focus parametrically 
across various expandability issues to see how they affected the time required 
to expand our forces The imperative was to check the first-order logic of our 
mobilization and reconstitution capabilities" 
J763-99-DY-S009 yawns 

RentBoy states, "Employment of tactical decentralisation coupled with 
strategic assessment will generate an unsurpassed advantage across the full 
spectrum of conflict potentials, from high to low intensity situations, includ- 
ing the proliferation of networked nonaligned insurgency forces" 
J763-99-DY-S009 appears slightly nonplussed. "And...?" 
RentBoy continues his eyes glazed over with either lust or early glaucoma. 
"And... the Warrior Preparedness U nit is seeking information to address the 
requirement for new delivery systems of precision-guided munitions based 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 269 

on advanced designs for automated and infrastructure warfare." 
J 763-99-DY-S009 responds impatiently, "Yeali, yeali. Tell me something new." 
RentBoy drones, "It is imperative we equip ourselves to converge undetect- 
ed upon an enemy either through direct firepower, opportunistic maneuvers 
or psychological operations" 

J 763-99-DY-S009 shrugs her shoulders. "Lil<e I really care. What's your 
actual point?" 

RentBoy suddenly focuses his gaze on U B40-99-DY-S009, unzips his fly, 
reaches down deep and pulls out an impressively swollen pricl<. 
"Let's see if our loser 'friend' can comply with this AP weapon," he mur- 
murs, one hand squeezing his leaking knob, the other languorously rubbing 
his waxy balls 

J 763-99-DY-S009 considers RentBoy's suggestion, running her fingers over 
his oozing cock, then shoving them down his throat. 
"C opy that. G et jiggy wit it and requisition his sorry ass at 0600. G ive me a 
damage report when you're done. I n the meantime... I think you'll be inter- 
ested in my latest procurement." 

Clearly wanting to beat his meat rather than continue the discussion, RentBoy 
mutters with some difficulty "Would that be that major snorefest tactical 
engagement simulation system instrumentation you've been waiting on?" 
J763-99-DY-S009 shakes her head, sending a gentle flurry of protein defi- 
ciency dandruff onto her epaulettes. 

"No way I'm talking about something exponentially more useful than your 
average TacSim. Bug-free, fully functional in rugged terrain. Remote Area 
M obility to die for, easily concealed, etc, etc. Basically more features than 
you can poke a joystick at," she replies, giving his dick a saucy slap, 
j 763-99-DY-S009 pushes RentBoy into the nearest cubicle and slams the 
door. You hear a slightly muffled order, perhaps the words "bend over, 
nigga," but you can't be sure. T he responding groan, then a series of grunts 
segueing into gasps, is unambiguous 

Suddenly the stink of futility threatens to overwhelm you and you quickly 
leave by the "G8" door. 



DATE: SAT, 17 OCT 1998 17:05:02 -0400 

As I went along the street where I live, I was suddenly gripped by a rhythm which 
took possession of me... It was as though someone were making use of my liv- 
ing-machine. Then another rhythm overtook and combined with the first, and 
certain strange transverse relations were set up between these two principles... 
They combined the movement of my walking legs and some kind of song I was 
murmuring or rather which was being murmured through me... — Paul Valery 

In America, we have a peculiar mode of rhythmic embodiment called the 
"power walk." Head held high, arms thrusting outward repeatedly in con- 
junction with the beat of the moving legs, hair and breasts abounce, onepro- 
pelsoneself along thestreet in jerky fast-motion paces asin an old silentfilm. 
Going nowhere in particular, often sheathed in garish, logo-strewn 
activewear, one in/ habits the gym— a fitness club no longer a place so much 
as a set of notions of what it means to be physically adequate in society. 
Unpack the prevailing notion of fitness [gasp] and there you have it, the 
body moving [gasp] in conjunction with the social and technical machine 
[gasp], according to formats of productivity efficiency, and adequacy. W hat 
are the beats? To focus on visual codes is to miss them. 
I want to consider "exercise" as a marker of rhythmic operations, in which 
the body isimmersed as agent and incorporant, within general conditions of 
making processes, forms, circuits, and capacities adequate to emerging 
regimes of fitness And lest one think that notions of fitness are not in keep- 
ing with the body's virtualization, and necessarily serve to privilege a singly 
corporealized entity I would like to point out that in all cases of body-sub- 
ject-interface encounters we are speaking of a newly mobilized body and a 
subjectivity constituted within formats of movement, across hybrid trans- 
port-transmission landscapes (Landscapes traversed in terms of the transfer 
of weight over land and the transmission of embodied presence through the 
network.) The body in motion, subject to notions of efficient and adequate 
movement, contours and sediments itself through circuits and cycles of rep- 
etition, in whatever degree of corporeality or virtuality Even on the 
(arguably) fully physical side of the spectrum, the days when one's body is 
parked at the monitor are coming to an end, and emerging cultural practices 
would do well to take this mobilization into account. The formats and codes 
of the interface register and facilitate these cycles, and the movements and 
processes of embodiment to which they are attached. 
The newly mobilized body bedecked in gadgetry— portable arrays of 
devices, either visible externally or implanted internally H ow sexy Consider 
a simple, early gadget: the Walkman, with which one powerwalks Sitting 
next to the early mainframe radio or phonograph, to what extent did one 

NEniME/ ART /PAGE 271 

forget about one's body, necessarily parked within range of tlie macliine? 
T lie interface as it stands, as it mal<es one stand, as it arrests one and places 
one in a holding-pattern, always lays the seeds for mobilization. A prepara- 
tory state for new sites of embodiment, patterns of mobility, and formats of 
enunciation. It facilitates arrays of localizations that link together in new 
presences A peculiar site of exercise, and not just in terms of the obvious 
hand-eye coordinations via the mouse, but in terms of the way its formats 
are internalized in larger patternsof movement. Hereiswherewe can locate 
the emerging paradigm of the database, and consider its effects But at the 
same time: the interface marksthe site of the arrested body's integration into 
the machine, into machinic operations that have larger societal links and 
consequences— indeed, which rest upon entire social apparatuses of fitness, 
efficiency adequacy. 

Consider the finger-scanner, now available as an option on the purchase of 
a new computer— right on the keyboard, to the left of the shift key or in 
some models, on the mouse itself. A new form of fingering! But even more: 
one agent of an entire emerging economy of authentication, based on the 
incorporation of biological patterns into virtualized constructs, formatted 
according to the emerging conventions of the database. T he "fingered" body 
is represented, is seen, its movements recorded and internalized, through the 
mechanisms of the database. H ow do these formats augment traditional, 
cinematic norms of movement representation— that is, the set of conven- 
tions through which the world of movement has come to be known? For 
movement is no longer seen as much as processed— or rather, it is repre- 
sented by way of its processing. 0 n one hand, the format of the database 
floats above the cinematic image-field, combining with it to generate a new 
kind of moving image— or "machine-image." One can even revisit the his- 
tory of the moving image in terms of movement processing: think of proto- 
powerwalker Charlie Chaplin in these terms, especially in his struggles to 
keep up with the demands of the machine in M odern T imes. And, again, one 
can think movement in terms of the immobilizations that it locates After all, it 
was Serge Daney who reminded us that the set of movement-conventions 
that is cinema only took hold via the public's immobilization in theaters, 
arrested and held in thrall by the screen. 

Such a public is today a tracked public. H arnessed to new technological 
assemblages and driven by processing imperatives, machine-images track 
movements as representation. Tracking is the way in which one sees and is 
seen by the image. Informed by the organizational paradigm of the data- 
base, tracking formatsan "improved," more productive and efficient form of 
vision. 1 1 protects one— informationally and corporeally— from an "outside" 
unprocessed reality that is increasingly constituted as dangerous Such a 
body whether in flesh or networked mode, incorporates fitness as the erasure 
of any threat to efficient, fast, and reliable flows 
A movement constituted through patterns of repetition, enmeshed in cir- 
cuits, harnessed to social and technical machines What better way of envi- 
sioning the exercise video— 0 ne! Two! Three!— and the body-database? In 
either case, counting equals accounting for, and the body is formatted through 
arrays of variables and calculations M ovement configures as a kind of sta- 

NEniME/ ART /PACE 272 

tistical articulation. Based on beliavior and preference data, as tracl<ed, 
abstracted, and aggregated in tlie database, X miglit, for example, show a 
59.6 percent propensity to move toward Y. As individuals and groups are 
processed, the public configures as a calculus of manageable interests, opin- 
ions, patterns, and functions T his ever more precise and "protective" statis- 
tical ventriloquization— stretching over speech lil<e a prophylactic or over 
pumped-up flesh like spandex— becomes an authentic voice of the people. 
A marker of speech and presence, a way in which the public is heard and 
made visible. The machine-image— the exercise-interface— is thus a politi- 
cized field of incorporation and identification, marking a network through 
which social identities and embodied forms are signaled and enacted. 
I n the face of this crisis in the visual, emerging sites of operation occur in 
the proliferating arrays of devices harnessed to machine-images the way 
that remote-control devices are attached to television screens T h^ are like 
"free weights"— three sets of eight reps now !— or the fitness calculators that 
interface body and machine and measure their compatibility, often resulting 
in the body's rates to be adjusted in accordance with prevailing fitness 
norms Increasingly such devices— in conjunction with their machine- 
images— serve as switch-points between interior and exterior rhythms, 
which they regulate and convey The interface always points to such a 
device, as it traffics between motivations and mobilities Through them, pri- 
vate and public realms, behaviors and built realities, exchange, encode, and 
format one another. 

M ovement is inextricably bound up in technological capacities and imper- 
atives. Wherever there is a movement, there is a machine. Exercise always 
happens in symbiosis with the machine, according to rhythms that it incor- 
porates and emits You don't relate signs when you exercise, as you do when 
you read and your body just (apparently) sits there immobilized. You coor- 
dinate your rhythms and movements to those you hear, feel, or sense pro- 
prioceptively T he body configures as a locus of rhythmic operations as an 
active process of incorporation and coordination with machines both tech- 
nical and social. To think in terms of "coordinations" as much as in rela- 
tions is to begin to understand emerging potentials for interventions within 
the field of the interface— the machine for moving. A logistics lurks in the 
most basic of routines 



DATE: TUE, 29 SEP 1998 08:43:16 +0200 (MET DST) 

Shell is not going to forget lightly its misadventures 
with the Brent Spar. T he 0 11 M ajor was taken by 
complete surprise when the G reenpeace campaign 
against sinl<ing that former drill platform achieved 
its goals What happened to Shell can in fact hap- 
pen to any corporation. Loosing control of the sit- 
uation as result of the activities of a pressure group 
has become a nightmare scenario for the modern 
multinational enterprise. 


The Oil Major's first reactive measures have 
meanwhile become the perfect example of how 
not to do it. But Shell has learned a lot as well. A 
comprehensive review of what has become known 
as the PR disaster of the century indicates that 
Shell had it all wrong about its own influence on 
the media. There was a new factor in the game, 
which had been completely missed out: the role of 
the internet. T hat would not be allowed to happen 
a second time. From July 1996, Shell International 
sports an internet manager. His name is Simon 
M ay he is 29, and responsible for Shell Interna- 
tional's various presences on the internet, and for 
monitoring and reacting to what is being written 
and said about Shell in cyberspace. H e also helps 
formulating the Shell group's strategy for how the 
internet should be used. 

May's career began in journalism, and more 
recently he did a four-year stint in the Sultanate of 
Oman in charge of the English-language commu- 
nications for the state-owned oil-company With 
him Shell's got a premium catch: May is young 
and eager, smart and fast, open-minded and nice, 
everything the image of the Company ought to be. 
And he understands like no other the internet's 
potential— also what it could mean for a company 
like Shell. Simon M ay openly admits that Shell was 

beaten in the new-media war. The Brent Spar 
affair was one, but the Nigeria situation has also 
prompted a "massive on-line bombardment" of 
criticism. To quote M ay: "T here has been a shift in 
the balance of power, activists are no longer entire- 
ly dependent of the existing media. Shell learned it 
the hard way with the Brent Spar, when a lot of 
information was disseminated outside the regular 

The Brent Spar affair has brought quite some 
change of attitude to Shell. Ten years ago the 
M uiti national could afford to blatantly ignore cam- 
paigns against the South African Apartheid 
regime. Although concerns were brewing in-house, 
to the outside world Shell maintained that the 
campaigns against Apartheid were not significant- 
ly damaging the company And for the rest Shell 
kept haughtily mum. Then came the Brent Spar 
incident and car owners were taking en masse to 
boycotting Shell's petrol pumps, and such an atti- 
tude no longer paid off. Shell came to feel the 
might of the mass market, and bowed down. An 
alternative would be worked out for the platform's 

But developments did not stop there. A few month 
later opposition leaders were executed in Nigeria 
as result of their attacks on the environmental dis- 
aster Shell was causing in Ogoni-land, and this 
caused a renewed storm of protest against Shell. 
The intimate links between Shell and the military 
regime came under severe criticism. The Oil 
M ajor then went for a new tactic and opened a PR 
offensive. CEO Cor Herstroter took the initiative 
in a debate on politically correct entrepreneurship. 
At the shareholders meeting in 1996 the new chart 
of business principles at Shell was unveiled, a 
comprehensive code of conduct with due 
allowance for human rights 


Does this all point out to a major shift in poiicies? 
0 r are we witnessing a smart public relation exer- 
cise intent on taking some steam from the pressure 
groups' momentum? 

In the beginning of June 1998, Brussels saw a con- 
ference devoted to pressure groups' growing influ- 
ence, organized by the PR agency. Entente Inter- 
national Communication. Entente did research 
about the way corporations were interacting with 
pressure groups and vice versa. T he findings pre- 
sented in a report titled "Putting the Pressure on" 
are harsh: "Modern day pressure groups have 
become a major political force in their own right, 
and are here to stay They manifest themselves in 
the use of powerful communication techniques 
and they succeed in attracting wide attention and 
sympathy projecting their case with great sl<ill via 
the mass media— they understand the power of 
PR and of the media "soundbite" And now, 
increasingly they do so over the global telecom- 
munication networks 

Their power and influence is bound to grow inex- 
orably over the next years 
Pressure groups are small, loosely structured and 
operate without overhead or otiier bureaucratic 
limitations the/ move lightly and creatively T hey 
pursue their aims with single-minded and remorse- 
less dedication. To be on the receiving end of a 
modern pressure group can be a very uncomfort- 
able experience indeed, sometimes even a very 
damaging one 

M ultinational companies are ill prepared to face 
this challenge, their responses are often slow and 
clumsy. There is a "bunker" mentality, and a reluc- 
tance to call in experienced help from outside 
which is surprising— and potentially dangerous 
This failure could cost such companies dearly in 
the future. 

At the conference in the SAS Radison Hotel in 
Brussels attended by some seventy participants 
from the corporate world and the PR industry fear 
for the unknown prevails The unpredictable 
power of pressure groups consumers or even nor- 
mal citizens can take the shape of boycott cam- 
paigns but also of commuters on the (newly priva- 
tized) British Railways to move out from a train 
that has been canceled on short notice T he biggest 
question remains unanswered: whose turn will it be 

next? T he Brent Spar affair has left its mark here 
By way of illustration the story of Felix Rudolph, 
an Austrian national who worked himself up from 
farm hand on his father's estate to manager of a 
factory producing genetically modified grain. 
Pioneer Saaten ("Pioneer Grain," the company's 
name) was not aware of doing anything wrong 
T he company produces for a small market niche in 
Central Europe and strives for optimal quality, so 
as to enable farmers to obtain better yields All 
products have been tested extensively and all test 
results have been duly registered. So nothing to 
worry about, that is until the company became the 
focus of a protest campaign, triggered by an 
impending referendum in Austria on genetically 
manipulated foodstuffs "We suddenly had to 
engage in debate with the public, something we 
never had done before Who's interested in grains 
anyway?" Felix Rudolph, as he holds his presenta- 
tion at the Brussels conference, still looks dumb- 
founded about what overcame him. "Your prod- 
ucts are unhealthy and dangerous asserted the 
pressure groups and we had no clue what we had 
to say in return. As soon as you try to explain the 
extent of a risk, you admit that such a risk exists In 
that referendum, 90 percent of the people turned 
out to be against gene technology the majority of 
whom did not know what they were talking 
about." It is only later that H err Rudolph under- 
stood that his company merely served as an exam- 
ple for the pressure groups "By engaging in a dia- 
logue, we provided them with a platform to put 
forward their case. The discussion itself went 
nowhere." This realization came too late, however. 
T he campaign so much impressed the government 
that it enacted laws regulating genetically manipu- 
lated foodstuffs An embittered Herr Rudolph: 
"N ow the farmers may foot the bill, and the pres- 
sure groups have vanished into thin air!" Pioneer 
Saaten had to temporarily suspend the production 
of modified grain. "We will try to explain things 
better next time we apply for a license." 
According to Peter Verhille from the Entente PR 
agency the greatest threat to the corporate world's 
reputation comes from the internet, the pressure 
groups newest weapon. "A growing number of 
multinational companies— such as McDonalds 
and M icrosoft— have been viciously attacked on 


the Internet by unidentifiable opponents which 
leave their victims in a desperate search for ade- 
quate countermeasures" 

T he danger emanating from the new telecommu- 
nication media cannot be over-emphasized, says 
M r. Verhille. "0 ne of the major strengths of pres- 
sure groups— in fact the leveling factor in their 
confrontation with powerful companies— is their 
ability to exploit the instruments of the telecom- 
munication revolution. Their agile use of global 
tools such as the Internet reduces the advantage 
that corporate budgets once provided." H is con- 
clusions made a hard impact on the participants of 
the conference In fact most companies appear 
slow to incorporate such tools into their own com- 
munication strategies When asked what steps they 
planned to take to match pressure groups mastery 
of these channels, most respondents simply repeat- 
ed their intention to expand into this area or 
admitted that their preparations were still in a 
preparatory stage 

As came to light in Brussels, there is one exception 
to this picture however: Shell international, inter- 
net manager Simon M ay gave a smashing presen- 
tation, which showed very well what Shell had 
come to learn about the new media. Simon M ay 
was also very open in an interview we held with 
him (befittingly by email), even though he could 
understandably not answer all of our questions 
Pressure on the Internet, T hreat or Opportunity was the 
core issue at his presentation. T he internet may be 
a threat to companies, it also offers big opportuni- 
ties Simon M ay states that the fact that anyone 
can be a publisher cheaply can be seen, or at least 
searched and looked at worldwide, and can present 
his/ her viewpoints on homepages or in discussion 
groups is not merely a menace, but also an unique 
challenge "Why are pressure groups so active on 
the I nternet? Because they can!" 
Companies should do the same, he argues, but 
must do it professionally "On-line activities must 
bean integral part an overall communication strat- 
egy, and should not be simply left to the care of the 
computer department." 

T he basic tenet of the Shell internet site (launched 
early 1996) was a new strategy based on openness 
and honesty Dialogue was the core concept, and 
sensitive issues were not side-stepped. M ay is quite 

satisfied with the results of this approach and illus- 
trates this with some facts and statistics 
Http:// receives over 1,100 emails 
a month, a full-time staff member answers all these 
mails personally and within forty-eight hours; 
there is no such thing as a standard reply There 
are links to the sites of Shell's competitors and 
detractors, and also to progressive social organiza- 
tions (nothing there more radical than Friends of 
the Earth or Greenpeace, but this aside). Shell also 
allowsopponentsto air their viewsin forums- those 
are uncensored. Not without pride, Simon May 
states that Shell is still the only multinational to do 
this T here is no predetermined internet strategy at 
Shell, flexibility is the name of the game "It's all 
about being able to react, listen and learn." His 
advice to the Brussels conference-goers: "Be care- 
ful, technology changes fast, and your audience 
changes and develops even faster. And think before 
acting: anything you're putting up on an Internet 
site you make globally available" 
Taking care of Shell's presence on the web is only 
one of the internet manager's tasks. H e must also 
monitor and react to what is being written and said 
about Shell. "The on-line community should not 
be ignored" was part of his advice in Brussels 
"Pressure groups were aware of the potential of 
the Internet far earlier than the corporate world. 
There are pressure groups that exist only on the 
internet, they're difficult to monitor and to control, 
you can't easily enroll as member of these closed 

Listening to the internet community can be an 
effective barometer of public opinion about your 
company The Shell headquarters in London are 
making a thorough job of it. Specialized, external 
consultants have been hired who scout the web 
daily inventorying all possible ways Shell is being 
mentioned on the net, and in which context. 
T hings are not made easier by the fact that search 
engines will assign forty-eight different well-known 
uses of the word "shell"... 
Simon M ay gladly explains how the work is done 
"We use a service which operates from the U S, 
E:Watch, who scan the Web world-wide for refer- 
ences to certain key words and phrases we supply 
to them. In the U.K. we use a company called 
Infonic, who does the same thing from a European 


perspective. T he results they come up with can be 
completely different, although they have been 
given the same search criteria, and the search has 
been done at the same period of time. This can be 
for a number of reasons, including the methods 
which they use to search, and the times of day they 
enter a site to index it." 

Shell also uses so-called intelligent agents These 
are search programs that can be trained to 
improve their performance over time. Simon 
M ay: "T his is particularly useful for us since our 
company name has so many different meanings. 
We can tell the "agent" which results are useful 
and which ones aren't, the next time the agent 
will go out and come back with only those docu- 
ments which are relevant." 
This monitoring can not be for 100 percent truly 
effective, but has to be carried out nonetheless, 
according to Simon M ay "You need to l<eep track 
of your audience all the time, since you may learn 
a lot from it." 

Visiting the Shell website, the first surprise is the 
measure of openness about issues previously 
wrapped in taboo. T here are carefully written fea- 
tures on human rights, the environment, and even 
the devastation and exploitation of 0 goni-land in 
Nigeria. The somewhat defensive character of 
some stories gives an indication as to which issues 
are still sensitive. Speaking for instance of the mas- 
sive oil spills in 0 goni-land, for which Shell is held 
responsible ("totally exaggerated and unproved 
accusations"), there is always the mention that 80 
percent of those have been caused by sabotage by 
radical resistance groups (this percentage is con- 
tested by the groups concerned). 
At the site's discussion forums arranged by sub- 
ject everybody is allowed a say about Shell's 
practices It is ironic then to see Shell collabora- 
tors from M alaysia and N igeria reacting with dis- 
may about what they read in those forums about 
their employer. 

The question is of course whether this form of 
openness really yields results The forums are not 
intended for people to question Shell; the email 
facility is provided for that. "The forums are 
intended for people to debate issues relevant to 
Shell among themselves, so to speak," says Simon 
M ay T he email service is actually being used quite 

intensively to put questions to Shell— these are the 
1,100 emails coming in every month. The nature 
of these questions and their answers remains a 
secret held by Shell and the emailers 
All in all, one might conclude that this amounts to 
a fake openness, for show purposes only After all, 
in public true discussions are being escliewed. But 
Simon M ay would deny that the forums are mere- 
ly window-dressing: "We do believe quite firmly 
that people have the right to debate these issues 
and we provide a place where they can do that in 
an environment which might just lead to their view 
being heard in an organization that can make a 
difference." Of course these forums function as 
barometer for what certain people think, M ay 
admits, although this is not their primary aim. 
At Earth Alarm (the foreign affair project of the 
Dutch environmental organization M ilieudefensie) 
these rather embellished representations of reality 
do not cut much ice. "They've changed a lot in 
their communication, they're far more careful 
about how they present themselves to the outside 
world. But that is mostly addressed to their cus- 
tomers here, in the Western world," says 
spokesperson Irene Bloemink. "Profits and princi- 
ples, the first issue of the totally overhauled Shell 
I nternational Yearly Report, has been only distrib- 
uted in the Netherlands, Great Britain and the 
United States That's where the people are that 
Shell sees as a potential threat." 
The situation in 0 goni-land has not improved in 
the two-and-half years since Ken Saro-Wiwa was 
hanged; on the contrary things have only gone 
worse, at least till the death of the military dictator 
General Sani Abacha. Scores of people have been 
arrested in the beginning of this year by a special 
military unit, founded specially to "ensure Shell 
comes back to 0 goni-land." This would at least 
suggest some kind of involvement. Yet Shell has 
done nothing to stop the latest wave of arrests." 
Adopting a code of conduct regarding human 
rights and the environment is simply not enough. 
What counts is implementation and enforcement. 
Shell has not in any way made clear how they 
intend to translate their good intentions into con- 
crete practice. There is no independent body to 
monitor the implementation of the code of con- 
duct. Shell is self-congratulating about their first 


environmental Annual Report, which they claim, 
has been thoroughly reviewed by K PM G 
Management Consultants. Shell considers this a 
fully independent review. But then, K PM '"s envi- 
ronmentCEO George M olenkamp goes further in 
de Volkskrant (a Dutch daily newspaper) to say that 
"accountants don't vouch as such for Shell's poli- 
cies Anything that comes in the report is as Shell 
has decided." Some contradictory viewpoints, I 
may say" says I rene Bloemink. 
It is doubtful whether Shell has really learned any- 
thing from its mistakes in N igeria. There is a new 
Shell venture in the West African country Tshad 
that looks as big as the N igeria operation, and with 
the same possible consequences And everything 
seems to go wrong again. Shell joined in a part- 
nership with Esso and Elf (stakes are 40-40-20 
respectively) and intends to start drilling new oil 
fields in the unstable South of that country A 
report on the environment assessment came as an 
afterthought, according to Earth Watch: the agree- 
ments were signed and test drillings had already 
begun. T he local population was informed of what 
was in store for them as the invading oil-men were 
underway and the operators came to the villages 
to bring the news accompanied by a heavily armed 

military escort. In M arch of 1998, over a hundred 
civilians were killed by the army as it tried to 
regain control over an area from the FARE sepa- 
ratist movement, which in its turn highlights its 
own existence by attacking this oil project. The 
FAR F claims that the earnings of the oil produc- 
tion will exclusively benefit the presidential coterie 
in the north. 

U ntil now. Shell has been hiding itself behind Esso 
as the local executive partner responsible for exter- 
nal relations, and has declined to engage in public 
debates on the subject. Even Simon M ay doesn't 
want to burn his fingers on the Chad issue. N otyet, 
that is 

[Translated by Patrice R iemens and edited by ReneeTurner This 
text was written and translated for this voiume; it also appeared in 
the online magazine Tdepolis, and a two-part version in Dutch 
appeared in the magazine Intermediar. A supplement to this text, 
focusing on the Shell pipeline in Chad and its World bank financ- 
ing, can be found at <http:// www .xs4all. nil -evel/ >.] 





The prime mover was a loose-knit current of 
Italy's Marxism labeled operaismo [workerism], 
which had absolutely nothing to do with the 
Communist Party. 

In the early sixties the Operaisti started to investi- 
gate changes in the sociological composition of 
the working class At that time, the young mass- 

worker of Fordist-Taylorist factories was still the 
tongue of the compass, the most important seg- 
ment of the proletariat. T he operaista intervention 
in class struggle was based upon a participant 
observation of the mass-worker's behavior. The 
mass worker explicitly refused the older genera- 
tion's work ethic and discipline. This insubordina- 
tion was the main mover of conflict in the work- 


place. Sabotage was not invisible anymore: along 
with moments of open struggle (stril<es and 
demonstrations) there was a flourishing of micro- 
tactics to slow down or stop the assembly line. 
Operaisti were committed to studying those behav- 
iorsand defining the dialectics between class strug- 
gle and capitalist development which I 'm going to 
sum up— taking some shortcuts The continual 
confrontation between capital and living labor was 
the cause of all technological innovations and 
changes in management, which would provoke 
further changes in the class composition, therefore 
the conflict would continue on a higher level. 
After the so-called Hot Autumn (1969), a season of 
general strikes and radical struggles with millions 
of workers taking the streets, proletarian insubor- 
dination increased. Struggles became more and 
more "autonomous" (this was the adjective by 
which wildcat strikers would describe their occu- 
pations: assemblea autonoma). In 1973 the self-dis- 
banding of the post-operaista group PotereOperaio 
[Workers' Power] gave origin to the scene renow- 
ned as autonomia operaia organizzata [organized 
workers' autonomy]. During the seventies, Italian 
Autonomia theorists (Toni Negri first among 
equals) started to investigate and define the exis- 
tence and subversive behavior of the operaio sodale. 
Such an ambiguous collective noun— hardly 
translatable into English— served to describe 
both the youngest generations of industrial work- 
ers who had broken away from the work ethic 
once and for all, and the whole cast of frustrated 
service workers, "proletarianized" students and 
white collars, unemployed wo/ men and mem- 
bers of youth subcultures whose conflict was 
clearly "antidialectical." 

"Antidialectical" means that self-organization, 
wildcat strikes, occupations and acts of sabotage 
did not take place within the realm of negotiated 
class struggle, indeed, they even cut loose from 
the traditional dialectical bond between struggles 
and development, and challenged the recupera- 
tive function of the unions and the Left's politi- 
cal control. 

In order to repress those uncontrollable eruptions 
and outbursts (the 1977 movement above all), the 
ruling class had to impose a state of emergency It 
was a bloodbath. By the end of the decade, most 

militants had been killed, thrown in prison, 
escaped from the country or started to shoot up 
heroin. But that's another story 
As some have suggested, from now on I'm going to 
use the term composizionismo instead of "[post-] 
operaismo," because the former is more precise and 
does not automatically correspond to a particular 
segment of the working class (the "blue collars"). 
T he so-called third industrial revolution made cap- 
ital supercede the Fordist-Taylorist paradigm, and 
turned information into the most important pro- 
ductive force. Appealing to those passages of the 
Grundrisse where Karl Marx used the expression 
"general intellect," compositionists began to use 
such descriptions as "mass intellectual" and "dif- 
fused intellectual" making reference to multifari- 
ous subjectivities in the new class composition. 
"M ass intellectuals" are those people whose living 
labor consists, broadly speaking, in a subordinated 
output of "creativity" and social communication 
(in compositionist jargon: "immaterial work"). 
T hissegmentof theoperaiosociale ranges from com- 
puter programmers to workers of Toyotist facto- 
ries, from graphic designers to copy writers, from 
PR people to cultural workers, from teachers to 
welfare case-workers etc. 

Negri's analysis in particular is based upon the 
"prerequisites of communism" immanent to post- 
Fordist capitalism. By "prerequisites of commu- 
nism" Negri means those collective forms that are 
created by past struggles and are constantly 
reshaped by the workers' tendencies, attitudes and 
reactions to exploitation. Some of these forms 
even become institutions (for example, those of the 
welfare state), then they go through a series of 
crises: social conflict created them, social conflict 
keeps them open and necessarily unfinished. T heir 
crisis reverberates on the whole society, so conflict 
continues on a higher level. 
The most important prerequisite of communism is 
the collective dimension of capitalist production, 
which brings about more social cooperation. 
The stress must be laid upon the most strategic 
form of today's living labor, i.e "general intel- 
lect," immaterial work, "creativity", you name it. 
"General intellect" (unlike labor in Taylor's "sci- 
entific management") is self- activated. The mass 
intellectual's workforce is not organized by capi- 


tal, because social communication is prior to 
entrepreneursliip. Capital can only recuperate and 
subdue social communication, control the mass 
intellectuals from the outside after having acl<nowl- 
edged and even stimulated their creativity and 
far-reaching intelligence. 

The conflict continues on the highest level: capi- 
tal's "progressive" spur isover, autonomy is becom- 
ing a premise rather than a goal. 


A compositionist approach to computer network- 
ing reveals that: 

• the net's horizontal and transnational develop- 
ment brings about a potentially autonomous 
social cooperation. 

• most netizens fall within the anthropological, 
sociological and economical descriptions of 
"mass intellectuals" 

• today's net landscape is the synthesis of many 
molecular insubordinations and some important 
molar victories, (eg., the anti-CDA "Blue Rib- 
bon" campaign) and is continually reshaped by 

• the net is also shaped by software piracy and 
copyright infringement: private property of 
ideas and concepts is challenged and often 
defeated. If any one of you is without copied or 
cracked programs, let them bethefirstto throw 
a stone at me 

• as an "institution," the net is going through a 
growth-crisis that is reflected upon the whole 
society In its turn, this crisis is a mover of con- 

In plain words, the net seems to be the prerequisite 
of communism par excellence This is not an 
uncritical Utopian view of computer networking, of 
course there's a huge gap between the potential 
and the actual: work-force vs work, languevs parole, 
capital vs living labor, consumerism vs social com- 
munication. The net is the OK Corral. It's para- 
doxical that, after all the schmoozing about 
"molecular revolution," we're heading straightto a 
new molar impact. 

The global anti-"paedophilia" mobilization is the 
state of emergency by which the powers that be want 
to gag netizens T he reappropriation of knowledge 
and the self-organization of mass intellectuals 

require the defense of the net from slanders and 
police raids We must keep this "institution" unfin- 
ished and open to any possibility, prevent capital 
from filling the above-mentioned gap with censor- 
ship and commodification. It isn'tjust a liberal bat- 
tle for free speech: it's class war. 
But this is not enough yet. We've got to make his- 
tory no less— fill that gap with autonomy and self- 
organization. We also need myths, narratives that 
incite mass intellectuals to take action. Each his- 
torical phase of class war needs propelling 
mythologies, there's nothing wrong with that. 
Georges Sorel has been slandered and misunder- 
stood for too long. As Luther Blissett put it: 

...the trouble is not the "falsehood" of myths, but the fact 
that they outlive the historical forms of the needs and 
desires they channelled and re-shaped. Once ritualized 
and systematized, the imaginary becomes the mirror 
image of the powers that be. The myths of social change 
turn into founding myths of the false community built and 
represented by the power [...] The myth of the 
"Proletariat" was rotten as well: instead of fighting for the 
self-suppression of proletarians as a class, the commu- 
nist movement had mystical wanks over any sign of "pro- 
letarianship", such as the "hardened hands" of the work- 
ers, or their "morality" [...] proletarians were defined 
according to sociology and identified with blue collars 
themselves at best, or with the "poor" of the Scriptures at 
worst, or even with both figures, while Marx had written: 
'Either the proletariat is revolutionary, or it is nothing'. The 
direct consequences were Zdanov's Socialist Realism, 
Puritanism, sexual repression vs. bourgeois "decadence", 
and all that shite. However, [...]the "destruction of myths" 
makes no sense, we must concentrate our efforts in 
another direction: let the imaginary move, prevent it from 
crystallising, try to understand when and how myths are 
to be deconstructed, dismembered or forgotten before 
the plurality of images is reduced to one and absolute. 
(Mind Invaders: Come Fottere I Media, Rome, 1995; par- 
tial translation available at: 

We need open, interactive., rhizomatic mytholo- 
gies But mythologies are always created, modified 
and retold by some community. What community 
are we talking about here? Let's start again from 
"general intellect." "General" means "common," 


literally "belonging to the genus," i.e wo/ mankind, 
our species. In On T he J ewish Question and tlie 
Economic And Pfiilosopfiical M anuscripts (1844), M arx 
appealed to two important concepts: Gemeinwesen 
(common being) and Gattungswsen (species-being). 
Class struggle, tlie self-supprssion of the proletariat 
as a class and, eventually, revolution were to over- 
come the alienation of human beings from their 
own Gemeinwesen and Gattungswesen, in order to 
build a global human community that coincided 
with the species itself, beyond races and state- 
nations, beyond citizenship. We cannot understand 
the compositionist theory which stems from the 
G rundrisse if we don't stick to M arx's humanistic idea 
of community. 


The Luther Blissett Project consciously started as 
an experiment of networking as myth-making. 
"Luther Blissett" is a multiuse name that can be 
adopted by anybody The goal is an anthropomor- 
phization of "general intellect": since 1994 many 
people who don't even know each other have end- 
lessly improved the reputation of Luther asa H omo 
Gemeinwsen. And yet, asBifo put it: "0 ne must not 
overvalue the importance of Luther Blissett. We 
could even say that Luther Blissett doesn't count 
for anything. All that really counts is the fact that 
we're all Luther Blissett." 

H ere are some sub-mythologies studied and put 
into practice by Luther Blissett: 

1. The nordic myth of the Waldganger, the rebel 
who "takes to the woods" In 1951 the German 
reactionary writer Ernst J linger wrote a pamphlet 
titled Der Waldgang. J linger described the society as 
ruled by plebiscitary patterns and panoptical sys- 
tems of social control. In order to escape from con- 
trol, the rebel must go to the woods and organize 
resistance. In nineteen-fucking-fifty-one! What 
should we say nowadays? Echelon, interceptions, 
video-surveillance everywhere, electronic records 
of our bank operations.. Taking to the woods is 
more necessary than ever. 
Some hacks have compared "Luther Blissett" to 
Robin H ood. Actually that hazy myth has much to 
do with multiuse names In eighteenth- century 
England, Saxon peasants ill-treated by the 

Norman ruling class expressed their malcontent 
and everyday resistance by ascribing many anony- 
mous actions (real and imaginary) to one outlaw 
whose figure gradually became that of "Robin 
H ood." The surname suggests that this folk hero 
(at least at the beginning) wore a hood— he had no 
face, he represented anyone T hat's the way the 
myth works though in the M iddle Ages it could 
only bring temporary consolation for a very limit- 
ed Gemeinschaft. 

2. Some other journalists described Luther Blissett 
asa "pirate" or a "buccaneer" It is an error OK, 
net-culture and orthodox underground culture are 
clogged with maritime metaphors and, yes, "pi- 
rate" also means someone who illegally copies 
material protected by copyright. But Luther 
Blissett is a terrestrial myth. You don't breathe 
brackish air in the woods The sea is far away 
maybe a Utopian horizon to which the outlaw 
gradually moves 

If there's a Utopian element in the Luther Blissett 
narrative, it is the Utopia of the criminal class: fuck 
them over and tal<e the French leave, as melancholically 
evoked in Gary Fleder'sT hingstoDoin Denver W hen 
You're Dead, a gangster-movie whose characters 
greet each other saying: "Boat drinks!" This is the 
happy end of all the movies whose protagonists 
manage to pull a fast one (a fraud, a robbery..). I n 
the last sequence you see them sailing around the 
Antilles quietly sipping their Daiquiris 
0 f course "boat drinks!" can only be a propelling 
sub- mythology, certainly not a realistic project, 
because there is no "elsewhere" left— misery is all 
around. The epilogue of Jim Thompson's The 
Getaway is very instructive Sometimes one can 
achieve "boat drinks!" though. Ronald Biggs the 
Englishman who made the Great Train Robbery 
of 1963, fled to Brazil and, as far as I know, he's 
still there But the Waldganger istoo far from the sea, 
indeed, only those who stand in the middle of dry 
land can cultivate "boat drinks!" as their Utopia: 
"T his is Denver, what do you need a boat for?" 

3. The last recurrent description is "cultural ter- 
rorist," which is less unacceptable but it is improp- 
er all the same, because "terrorism" is a term that 
the ruling class uses to defame anything and any- 


body, and also because "terrorism" and state 
repression always mirror each other (the ETA vs 
the GAL, the Armed Islamic G roup vs the "nin- 
jas" of the Algerian Army and so on). T he dialec- 
tic between police state and "terrorism" is based 
upon emulation. 

And yet, even the apparatus of the state can pro- 
vide us with some useful images I'm talking about 
"intelligence" and black propaganda. Multiuse 
name bearers from Italy and other countries often 
mention and cite a book, Ellic Howe's The Black 
Game: British Subversive Operations Against the Germans 
During the Second World War (Queen Ann Press, 
London, U.K., 1982). 

During WW2, M r. Howe was the secret Political 
Warfare Executive's specialist for the manufacture 
of printed fakes and forgeries PWE's instructions 
were to undermine the morale of German soldiers 
and civilians, by means of disinformation and psy- 
chological warfare. Thanks to a network of agents 
in the enemy-occupied territories, PWE issued fake 
N5DAP circular letters about feuds in the Party 
bogus government edicts about desertion, a fright- 
ening Plague Booklet supposedly published by the 
German M inistry of Health and leaflets advising 

the female army personnel not to have sex with sol- 
diers because of venereal diseases PWE even pro- 
duced half a dozen issues of Der Zenit, a bogus 
astrological magazine that dissuaded sailors from 
weighing anchor on a certain "inauspicious" day 
(of course it was the date of some important naval 
operation). PWE also invented Gustav Siegfried 
Eins a/ k/ a Der Chef, a nonexistent German dissi- 
dent talking on a bogus clandestine radio station 
(actually the broadcasts were from theU.K .), enter- 
taining the audience with invectives against nazi 
politicians and detailed (albeit false) gossip about 
their sexual perversions 

Since the dawnings of the project, Luther Blissett 
has been playing a black game like that. This is 
another viable mythology for mass intellectuals 
Given the new molar dimension of conflict, this is 
the molecular we can find and work with. Try to fig- 
ure all those tricksters, impostors and transmaniacs 
meeting up in the woods, spreading rumors and 
black material, inoculating lethal viruses in the ter- 
ritories of this global electronic Fifth Reich and 
then... "Boat drinks!" 

[All rights dispersed.] 


DATE: WED, 16 SEP 1998 13:29:02 +0200 

M arx, now long forgotten by most who spoke his 
name but a decade or two ago, once said the fol- 
lowing in his brilliantly allegorical essay on the 
Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 
"Bourgeois revolutions... storm quickly from suc- 
cess to success; their dramatic effects outdo each; 
men and things set in sparkling brilliants; ecstasy is 
the everyday spirit; but they are short-lived; soon 
they have attained their zenith, and a long crapu- 
lent depression lays hold of society before it learns 
soberly to assimilate the results of its storm-and- 
stress period." In Asia, reeling under the current 
crisis, the moment of ecstasy has long passed, and 
the "long crapulent depression" is here to stay 

India, a poor cousin of the East Asians, tried to 
ignore the crisis through its traditional West-cen- 
teredness. But the crisis has finally arrived in 
South Asia as the I ndian rupee has dived steadily 
since last year and inflation is raging. 
But in the area of electronic capitalism, the mood 
is buoyant. Software stocks have risen 120 percent 
and soon software will become India's largest 
export. M any fables have emerged as a response to 
the irruption of electronic capitalism in a country 
where 400 million cannot even read or write. T he 
first fable is a domesticated version of the virtual 
ideology In thislndianized version, propagated by 
the technocratic and programming elite, India's 


access to western modernity (and progress) would 
obtain tlirougli a vast virtual universe, pro- 
grammed and developed by "Indians." The 
model: to develop technocities existing in virtual 
time with U.S. corporations, where Indian pro- 
grammers would provide low-cost solutions to the 
new global technospace. 

T he second fable is a counterfable to the first and 
quite familiar to those who live in the alternative 
publics of the net. T his fable comes out of a long 
culture of 0 Id-Left politics in I ndia and draws lib- 
erally from sixties dependency theory The fable, 
not surprisingly arguesthat India's insertion in the 
virtual global economy follows traditional patterns 
of unequal exchange Indian programmers offer a 
low-cost solution to the problems of transnational 
corporations Indian software solutions occupy the 
lower end of the global virtual commodity chain, 
just as cotton farmers in South Asia did in the 
nineteenth century where they would supply 
M anchester mills with produce 
All fables are not untrue, but some are more "true" 
than others Thus the second fable claims, not 
unfairly that most I ndian software isexported, and 
there is very little available in the local languages 
(ironically the Indian-language versions of the 
main programs are being developed by IBM and 
M icrosoft) T he alternative vision posed by the sec- 
ond fable istypically nationalist. H ere India would 
first concentrate on its domestic space and then 
forge international linl<s 

In a sense both fables suffer from a yearning for 
perfection. While the first promises a seamless 
transition to globalism, the second offers a world 
that is autarchic. Both are ideological, in the old, 
nineteenth-century sense of the term, which 
makes one a little uncomfortable. "Down with all 
the hypotheses that allow the belief in a true 
world," N ietzsche once wrote angrily 
T here is no doubt that for a "T hird World" country 
India displays a dynamic map of the new techno- 
cultures T he problem for both the fables mentioned 
above is that th^ remain limited to the elite 
domains of techno-space in India. This domain is 
composed of young, upper-caste, often English- 
speaking programmers in large metropolises partic- 
ularly emerging technocities like Bangalore and 
H yderabad. T his is the story which Wired loves to 

tell its Western audiences, but in a critical, innova- 
tive sense most of these programmers are not the 
future citizens of the counter net-publics in I ndia. 
What is crucial in the Indian scenario is that the 
dominant electronic public has cohered with the 
cultural-political imagination of a belligerent 
H indu- nationalist movement. H indu nationalism in 
India came to power using an explosive mix of 
antiminority violence and a discourse of modernity 
that was quite contemporary This discourse 
appealed to the upper-caste elites in the fast-growing 
cities and towns using innovative forms of mechan- 
ical and electronic reproduction. Thus it was the 
H indu nationalists who first used cheap audio-cas- 
sette tapes to spread anti-M usiim messages; further 
giant videoscapes were used to project an aestheti- 
cized politics of hate Some of the first I ndian web- 
sites were also set up by the H indu nationalists To 
this landscape has been added that terrifying nine- 
teenth-century weapon, the nuclear bomb. 
T his is an imagination that is aggressive, technolog- 
ically savvy and eminently attractive to the cybere- 
lites T he cyberelites may be uncomfortable with the 
H indu nationalists' periodic rhetoric of "national 
sufficiency," but such language is hyper-political and 
has less meaning on the ground. Outside the uni- 
verse of the cyberelite, is another one which speaks 
to a more energetic technoculture. T his is a world of 
innovation and nonlegality of ad hoc discovery and 
electronic survival strategies 
But before I talk about this a story of my own. 
Two years ago, I was on a train in Southern I ndia 
where I met Selvam, a young man of twenty-four, 
who I saw reading used computer magazines in the 
railway compartment. Selvam'sstory isfascinating, 
for it throws light on a world outside those of the 

Selvam was born in the temple town of M adurai in 
Southern India, the son of a worker in the town 
court, who came from the Dalit community India's 
lowest castes After ten years in school, Selvam 
began doing a series of odd jobs he also learnt to 
type at a night school after which he landed a job at 
a typists shop. 1 1 was there that Selvam fi rst encoun- 
tered the new technoculture— I ndian-style 
In the the late eighties India witnessed a unique 
communicative transformation— the spread of 
public telephones in different parts of the country 


Typically these were not anonymous card-based 
instruments as in tlie West or otiier parts of tlie 
Tliird World, but run by humans These were 
called Public Call Offices (PCOs). The idea was 
that in a nonliterate society lil<e India, the act of 
telecommunication had to be mediated by 
humans Typically literates and nonliterates used 
PCOs which often doubled as fax centers, xerox 
shops and typists shops Open through the night, 
PCOs offered inexpensive, personalized services 
which spread rapidly all over the country 
Selvam's type shop was such a PCO. Selvam 
worked on a used 286, running an old version of 
Wordstar, where he would type out formal letters 
to state officials for clients, usually peasants and 
unemployed. Soon Selvam graduated to a faster 
486 and learnt programming by devouring used 
manuals, and simply asking around. T his was the 
world of informal technological knowledge in most 
parts of India, where those excluded from the 
upper-caste, English-speaking bastions of the 
cyber-elite learnt their tools Selvam told me how 
the textile town of Coimbatore, a few hours from 
Madurai, set up its own BBS by procuring used 
modems, and connecting them later at night. U sed 
computer equipment is part of a vast commodity 
chain in I ndia, originating from various centers in 
India but, the main center is Delhi. 
Delhi has a history of single-commodity markets 
from the days of the M oghul empire. T hen various 
markets would specialize in a single commodity, a 
tradition which has continued to the present. The 
center of Delhi's computer trade is the Nehru 
Place market. N ehru Place is a dark, seedy cluster 
of gray concrete blocks, which is filled with small 
shops devoted to the computer trade. Present here 
are the agents of large corporations, as also soft- 
ware pirates, spare parts dealers, electronic smug- 
glers, and wheeler-dealers of every kind in the 
computer world. This cluster of legality and non- 
legality is typical of Indian technoculture. When 
the cable television revolution began in the 
nineties, all the cable operators were illegal, and 
many continue to be so even today This largely 
disorganized, dispersed scenario makes it impossi- 
ble for paid cable television to work in India. This 
is a pirate modernity, but one with no particular 
thought about counterculture or its likes It is a 

simple survival strategy The computer trade has 
followed the pirate modernity of cable television. 
Just as small town cable operators would come to 
the cable market in the walled city area of Delhi 
for equipment, so people from small towns like 
Selvam would come to Nehru Place as a source for 
computer parts, used computers, older black and 
white monitors, and motherboards out of fashion 
in Delhi. 

This is a world that is everyday in its imaginary, 
pirate in its practice, and mobile in its innovation. 
T his is also a world that never makes it to the com- 
puter magazines, nor the technological discourses 
dominated by the cyber-elite. The old nationalists 
and left view this world with fascination and hor- 
ror, for it makes a muddle of simple nationalist 
solutions One can call this a recycled electronic 
modernity. And it is an imaginary that is suspect in 
the eyes of all the major ideological actors in tech- 
nospace. For the Indian proponents of a global vir- 
tual universe, the illegality of recycled modernity is 
alarming and "unproductive." Recycled moderni- 
ty, prevents India's accession to World Trade 
Organization conventions, and has prevented 
multinational manufacturers from dominating 
India's domestic computer market. For the nation- 
alists, this modernity only reconfirms older pat- 
terns of unequal exchange and world inequality I n 
cyberterms this means smaller processing power 
than those current in the West, lesser band width, 
and no control over the key processes of electronic 
production. I suspect that members of the elec- 
tronic avant garde and the counter net-publics in 
the West will find recycled modernity in India baf- 
fling. For recycled modernity has not discrete 
spaces of its own in opposition to the main cybere- 
lites, nor does it posit a self-defined oppositional 
stance. T his is a modernity that is fluid and mock- 
ing in definition. But is also a world of those dis- 
possessed by the elite domains of electronic capi- 
tal, a world which possesses a hunter-gatherer cun- 
ning and practical intelligence. 
The term "recycling" may conjure up images of a 
borrowed, unoriginal modern. Originality was of 
course Baudelairian modernity's great claim to 
dynamism. As social life progressed through a com- 
bination of dispersion and unity, the Baudelairian 
subject was propelled by a search for new visions of 


original innovation, wliicli was botli artistic and sci- 
entific. A lot of this has fallen by the wayside in the 
past few decades, but weak impulses survive to this 
day It is important to stress too that recycled 
modernity does not reflect a thought-out postmod- 
ern sensibility. Recycling is a strategy of both sur- 
vival and innovation on terms entirely outside the 
current debates on the structure and imagination of 
the net and technoculture in general. As global- 
ists/ virtualists push eagerly for a new economy of 
virtual space, and the nationalists call for a nation- 
al electronic self-sufficiency the practitioners of 
recycling keep working away in the invisible mar- 
kets of India. In fact given the evidence, it could 
even be argued that recycling's claim to "moderni- 
ty" is quite fragile. Recycling lacks none of moder- 
nity's self-proclaimed reflexivity, there is no sense of 
a means-ends action, nor is there any coherent 
project. This contrasts with the many historical 
legacies of modernity in India— one of which was 
Nehruvian. This modernity was monumental and 
future-oriented, it spoke in terms of projects, clear 
visions and argued goals And the favorite instru- 
ment of this modernity was a state plan, borrowed 
from Soviet models Nehruvian modernity has 
been recently challenged by H indu nationalism, 
which too, has sought to posit its own claims to 
modernity, where an authoritarian state and the 
hegemony of the H indu majority ally with a 
dynamic urban consumption regime. 
While recycling practices' claim to modernity lies 
less in any architecture of mobility but an engage- 
ment with speed. Speed constitutes recycling's 
great reference of activity, centered around sound, 
vision and data. Temporal acceleration, which 
Reinhart Koselleck claims is one of modernity's 
central features, speaks to the deep yearnings of 
recycling praxis But this is a constantly shifting 
universe of adapting to available tools of speed, 
the world infobahn is but an infrequent visitor. 
C onsider the practice of speed, where the givens of 
access to the net, the purchase of processing power, 
all do not exist. They have to be created, partly 
through developing new techniques, and partly 
through breaking the laws of global electronic cap- 
ital. Recycling's great limitation in the comput- 
er/ net industry is content. This actually contrasts 
with the other areas of India's cultural industry- 

music and cinema. In the field of popular music, a 
pirate culture effectively broke the stranglehold of 
multinational companies in the music scene and 
opened up vast new areas of popular music which 
the big companies had been afraid to touch. 
Selling less from official music stores as from neigh- 
borhood betel-leaf (paan) shops, then pirate cas- 
settes have made India into one of the major music 
markets in the world. In the field of cinema and 
television, content has never been a problem with 
a large local film industry which has restricted 
H ollywood largely to English-language audiences. 
What accounts for this great limitation in the net 
and the computer components of recycled moder- 
nity? Recycling practices have, as we have shown 
been very successful in expanding computer cul- 
ture, by making it inexpensive and accessible. M ost 
importantly recycling provided a practical educa- 
tion to tens of thousands of people left out of the 
upper-caste technical universities. But content 
providers are still ata discount. But perhaps not yet. 
T he last time I went to N ehru Place I met a young 
man from Eastern India busy collecting Linux 
manuals In a few years the recyclers, bored with 
pirating M icrosoft warez, will surely begin writing 
their own. Given that such has taken place in every 
other dimension of recycled modernity in India 
there is no reason why it should not do so here. 

NEniM E / LOCAL / PAGE 292 


DATE: THU, 11 JUN 1998 23:51:37 -300 

Yes, I am back. True, I won't be writing as often, 
since I l<ind of liaveajob now, and I liave less time 
to lool< at tlie big picture, wliicli, liowever fascinat- 
ing (at least for those who can find humor in hu- 
man's inadequacies), never paid off much anyway. 

Both in the New Yorl< Tims on M ay 2 and in the 
ABC "N ightline" on M ay 4 there was much talk 
about ramifications of showing a tragedy on the 
network TV, but nearly not a word about prevent- 
ing the tragedy from happening in the first place. I 
have a piece of advice for the society that believes 
that whether was it right for the T V to show a man 
blowing his head off live or not, is more pressing 
social issue than examining the justifiability of rea- 
sons why the poor fellow did it: don't create 
tragedies, then you won't have to worry about 
showing them. Whether showing a real-life suicide 
on TV good or bad journalism, I cannot tell. 
M edia in general are a mirror of society If society 
is sick, the media shall reflect that sickness. Trying 
to prevent that was one of the gravest mistakes of 
communist societies, which all by now have paid 
for the attempt with their lives What really is the 
bad journalism is not talking about why this man 
actually committed suicide: getting screwed by his 
"health maintenance organization" (HMO), which 
happens to millions of Americans every day I can 
completely understand that the health-care admin- 
istrators may easily drive an otherwise sane indi- 
vidual to the act of suicide, since I am being sys- 
tematically driven crazy by the system myself. At 
one point it occurred to me that it is better not to 
have any insurance. If you are a private patient, 
the doctors will at least tell you the truth, and then 
if you have ten thousand dollars, they will treat 
you; if you don't, they will let you linger in your 
misery which is an ultimately perfect application of 
the laissez-faire capitalism. If, however, you belong 
to an H M 0, your doctor will give you a diagnosis 

that will justify a treatment that your H M 0 is will- 
ing to pay for so that your HMO will be pleased by 
his or her shrewdness— and continue to send 
him/ her new patients HMOs don't like expensive 
treatments, so your doctor will not resort to any- 
thing radical unless it is an absolute life- threaten- 
ing emergency It doesn't pay for him or her, 
because your HMO agrees to pay less than he or 
she would normally ask for such treatment (howev- 
er absurdly inflated that sum might be). T herefore, 
as an H M 0 patient, you are bound to receive sec- 
ond-class care. And if the cheapest possible treat- 
ment that you are getting ultimately shows no 
results— that is, your health does not improve— the 
good doctor will change the therapy keeping you 
constantly in a limbo between health and sickness, 
so that you keep coming back for more until you 
die or drop the H M 0 . H M 0 s apparently have no 
problems with indefinitely long treatments as long 
as they are low-budget ones That means that 
many doctors consciously provide inadequate care 
to the patients in order to keep a cozy relations 
with the H M 0. This is very disturbing It was dis- 
turbing for this man to the point that he decided to 
commit suicide. And the only thing we can talk 
about is the inappropriateness of showing that on 
TV? What should have the TV done? Sweep the 
event under the carpet? Well, should I ever come 
to that point, I promise you all a good television. 
0 n M ay 7 my account was charged a $17 "main- 
tenance fee." No, I don't have a brokerage 
account; this is a "Lifeline" checking account, 
which name correctly suggests that all my miser- 
able earnings and modest survival expenses are 
recorded there. The basic fee for that account is 
$4.50 a month, which covers only the enormous 
privilege of keeping your money in a bank. U.S. 
banks are the only banks in the world to charge 
their customers for tal<ing their money. M aybe this 
makes sense considering the overall U.S. corporate 


arrogance in the world. This basic fee will also 
cover up to ten transactions during one month. 
Transactions are checks, electronic payments, or 
cash withdrawals 0 nee you engage in more than 
ten transactions, which is hardly avoidable unless 
you are a retired person, your monthly fee will 
shoot up to $9.50 a month and you will be charged 
$0.50 per transaction. Customer service clerk 
explained to me that the $17 included the $9.50 
service fee in my fifteen transactions in last month: 
15 X 0.50 = 7.50 + 9.50 = 17.00. M y question was: 
Did I engage in fifteen transactions over my lifeline 
"limit" of ten, or did I have fifteen transactions 
total, meaning! wasfivetransactionsover the limit? 
Her answer: A total of fifteen transactions The 
fact that I had more than ten transactions auto- 
matically raised my monthly service fee from $4.50 
to $9.50— a $5 penalty for having five more trans- 
actions, or $1 per transaction. Also, since I was 
over ten, my account was automatically charged a 
$0.50 per transaction fee. N ow, here is my point: I 
was charged the per transaction fee for all fifteen 
transactions, not just for the five that were over the 
lifeline limit of ten. I was penalized once— $5 for 
five transactions I was penalized twice $2.50 for 
the same five transactions. And I was penalized for 
the third time for the same five transaction by 
being asked to pay $5 for the previous ten transac- 
tions, which would otherwise, should I have not 
made those five transactions over my limit, be 
included in my Lifeline checking agreement. In 
fact, those five transactions cost me $12.50, which 
is a whooping $2.50 per transaction, that in a case 
of a let's say an AT M withdrawal of $20 represents 
more than a 10 percent of that transaction. T his is 
a triple penalty for five transactions I deem such 
harsh penalties unreasonably cruel and unusually 
unfair to lower-income customers Again, the cus- 
tomer service person asserted that this charge is a 
part of the agreement I have signed, and that it is 
a Chase Manhattan bank's policy to charge its 
Lifeline checking account customers $9.50 month- 
ly service charge should they exceed their ten- 
transaction monthly limit and a $0.50 per transac- 
tion fee retroadvely including the first ten transac- 
tions I never understood that the per transaction 
fee can or will be applied retroactively I doubt I 
would have signed the agreement had I under- 

stood that. Furthermore, having a policy does not 
necessarily make it right. N azi G ermany had a pol- 
icy of exterminating Jews, for example. Chase has 
a policy of driving its customers to the poorhouse 
with unreasonable and unfair fees To protest I 
renamed C hase M anhattan Bank on all my checks 
as Chase Fascist Bank and I reduced the Chase 
corporate sign on my ATM card to a swastika. 
Unsurprisingly it reminded me of a swastika to 
begin with, didn't it? 

Something just occurred to me: T here is a dynam- 
ic relationship between hardware and software 
industry sort of a bidirectional pull. New software 
makes old hardware obsolete and new hardware 
makes old software obsolete. When new software is 
written for the new hardware, it is written to make 
that hardware useless soon. When new hardware is 
built to support that new software better, it is built 
also to provide for even better software yet to be 
written. This is how M icrosoft and Intel rule the 
world. The hardware industry had to try to keep 
pricesat a general level (which drops every year), so 
now most of the chips are made and boards print- 
ed in M alaysia, Taiwan, T hailand, and so on. T he 
cheap labor there drove the price of software 
down, so now the software companies contract 
labor in Eastern Europe or Ireland. The turn- 
around of the new software and hardware used to 
be three or fouryears; now it is about a yean 
M icrosoft expects you to upgrade your operating 
system every year, and that means you will need 
all-new hardware (which make I ntel happy) and all 
new software, because the new operating system 
will be written for the new hardware requirements 
and require new software to be written for it. 0 nee 
the new software is out, files produced by the new 
software are usually not readable with old soft- 
ware—and sometimes even vice versa— so every- 
body has to get the new operating system, an all- 
new computer, and new software. That's why oth- 
ers in the computer industry though they bitch 
about Gates cornering the market, don't really 
want to get rid of him. When one follows this cycle, 
one soon sees one of its logical conclusions: the 
price of hardware becomes so low that it is 
becomes less practical to repair a computer than to 
buy a new one. T he price of labor in the country 
of production was substantially lower than it is in 

NEniM E / LOCAL / PAGE 294 

the country of service (in tlie U.S., for example). 
Usually, manufacturers keeps making parts for 
their old models for maybe a year (sometimes less) 
after the model goes out of production. For 
exmaple, I can't get a new battery for my seven- 
year-year-old 286 notebook, and the old trusty bat- 
tery is dead; the computer still works fine 0 r: ATI 
wouldn't update the Windows 3.11 drivers for its 
three-year-old "Winturbo" video card (the old 
drivers are not supported by the 16-bit RealAudio 
player version 3.0 or higher. New ATI cards are 
built to support new Windows 95 features, and 
RealAudio is concentrating on 32-bit versions of 
its software Radio lOlsent me RealAudio file of a 
thirty-minute broadcast of the Weekreport from 
Zagreb: my old version of RealAudio 2.0 couldn't 
read the file I called RealAudio, and they pointed 
me to a download of RealAudio 3.0. 1 had to pay 
for it, of course, about $30; but it wouldn't work on 
my computer because of a conflict with ATI 
Winturbo driver. While I was trying to solve this 
problem, my Windows 3.11 irretrievably crashed; I 
can't get it back on, nor I can install a new version 
of Windows on the same disk— so I get a new com- 
puter. T he new computer is a laptop, and it comes 

with Windows 95. But it is a one-year-old refurb, 
because Winbook corporation, from which I pur- 
chased it, doesn't manufacture or sell "outdated" 
Pentium 166 M M X models anymore But the unit 
came with a defective floppy drive and printer 
port. They agreed to fix it. They send FedEx to 
pick it up instantly; but now it's been over ten busi- 
ness days that they've had it. Last week they said 
they were replacing the motherboard and passing 
it to the quality control department for a burn-out. 
Today they said that they are replacing the moth- 
erboard; as soon this was done, they'd pass it to the 
quality control department for a burn-out test. 
Neither time could they give me an estimate of 
when the unit would ship back to me And all this 
for.. .the ability to access and edit my data. Bill 
Gates, who holds more power and controls more 
money than a pope in the ninth century— he may 
nottell us what the truth is, but he is showing usthe 
only way to the truth, and the truth is just a click 
away Where do you want to go today? To the 
nearest technical support person, thank you. 

[Edited by Geert Lovink and Ted Byfield.] 




DATE: FRI, 9 OCT 1998 15:49:59 -0400 (EDT) 

Since the modern notion of the public space has 
been increasingly recognized as a bourgeois fanta- 
sy that was dead on arrival at its inception in the 
nineteenth century an urgent need has emerged 
for continuous development of tactics to reestab- 
lish a means of expression and a space of tempo- 
rary autonomy within the realm of the social. T his 
problem has worsened in the latter half of the 
twentieth century since new electronic media have 
advanced surveillance capabilities, which in turn 

are supported by stronger and increasingly perva- 
sive police mechanisms that now function in both 
presence and absence Indeed, the need to appro- 
priate social space has decreased in necessity with 
the rise of nomadic power vectors and with the dis- 
appearance of borders in regard to multinational 
corporate political and economic policy construc- 
tion; however, on the micro level of everyday life 
activity and within the parameters of physical 
locality spatial appropriations and the disruption 


of mechanisms for extreme expression manage- 
ment still have value. Each of us at one point or 
another, and to varying degrees, has had to face the 
constraints of specific social spaces that are so 
repressive that any act beyond those of service to 
normative comportment, the commodity, or any 
other component of the status quo is strictly pro- 
hibited. Such situations are most common at the 
monuments to capital that dot the urban landscape, 
but they can also be witnessed in spectacular 
moments when extreme repression shines through 
thescreenal mediator as an alibi for democracy and 
freedom. T he finest example to date in the U S was 
the 1996 presidential election. A protest area was 
constructed at the Republican National Conven- 
tion where protesters could sign up for fifteen- 
minute intervals during which they were permitted 
to speak openly T his political joke played on naive 
activists had the paradoxical effect of turning the 
protesters into street corner kooks screaming from 
their soapbox about issues with no history or con- 
text, while at the same time reinforcing the illusion 
that there is free speech in the public sphere 
Certainly, for anyone who was paying attention 
enough to see through the thin glaze of capital's 
"open society" this ritualized discontent was the 
funeral for all the myths of citizenry public space, 
or open discourse. To speak of censorship in this 
situation or in the many others that could be cited 
by any reader, is deeply foolish, when there was no 
free speech or open discourse to begin with. What 
is really being referred to when the charge of cen- 
sorship is made is an increase in expression man- 
agement and spatial fortification that surpasses the 
everyday life expectation of repression. Censorship 
and self-censorship (internalized censorship) is our 
environment of locality, and it is within this realm 
that contestational robots perform a useful service 


While robots are generally multifunctional and use- 
ful for a broad variety of duties such as rote tasks, 
high precision activities, telepresent operations, 
data collection, and so on, one function above all 
other is of greatest interest to the contestational 
roboticist. That function is the ability of robots to 
insinuate themselves into situations that are mortal- 
ly dangerous or otherwise hazardous to humans 

Take for example three robots developed at 
Carnegie Mellon University. The first is a robot 
that can be affixed to pipes with asbestos insulation; 
it will inch its way down the pipe cutting away the 
asbestos and safely collecting the remains at the 
same time For a robot, this one is relatively inex- 
pensive to produce, and could reduce the costs of 
removing extremely carcinogenic materials The 
second isa robot designed in case of a nuclear acci- 
dent. T his robot hasthe capability of cutting into a 
nuclear containment tank of a power plant and 
testing for the degree of core corruption and area 
contamination. Once again, this method is certain- 
ly preferable to having a person suit up in protec- 
tive gear and doing the inspection him/ herself 
Finally an autonomous military vehicle is under 
development. The reasons for the development of 
this vehicle are not publicly discussed, so let's just 
imagine for a moment what they might be. What 
could an autonomous military vehicle be used for? 
Let's make the fair and reasonable assumption that 
it has direct military application as a tactical vehi- 
cle (it is a H umvee after all). It could have scouting 
capabilities; since the vision engines of this vehicle 
are very advanced this possibility seems likely At 
present, the vehicle has no weapons or weapon 
mounts Of course, such an oversight could be eas- 
ily remedied. If the vehicle was used as an assault 
vehicle it would still follow the model set by the 
prior two robots In other words, it could go into a 
situation unfit for humans and take action in 
response to that environment. However, one ele- 
ment distinguishes the potential assault vehicle 
from the other two robots. W hile the other two are 
primarily designed for a physical function, the lat- 
ter has a social function— the militarization of 
space by an intelligent agent. Of modest fortune is 
the fact that this model can be inverted. M ilitarized 
social space can be appropriated by robots, and 
alternative expressions could be insinuated into the 
space by robotic simulations of human actions 
While autonomous robotic action in contestational 
conditions is beyond the reach of the amateur 
roboticist, basic telepresent action may not be. 


Like the physical dangers of being irradiated or 
breathing asbestos, there are specific social spaces 


which are too dangerous for those of contestation- 
al consciousness and subversive intent to enter 
Even the tiniest voice of disruption is met by silenc- 
ing mechanisms that can range from ejection from 
the space to arrest and/ or violence For example, 
being in or around the grand majority of govern- 
mental spaces and displaying any form of behavior 
outside the narrow parameters designated for those 
spaces will bring a swift response from authorities 
Thinl< back to the example of the convention 
protest space. U sing the designated protest area was 
the only possibility as no protest permits (an oxy- 
moron) were being issued. Those who attempted to 
challenge this extensively managed territory were 
promptly told to leave or face arrest. T hese are the 
hazardous conditions under which robotic objec- 
tors could be useful by allowing agents of contesta- 
tion to enter their discourse into public record, 
while keeping the agent at a safe distance from the 
disturbance (The remotes can work up to ninety 
meters; however, the robot has to be kept within the 
operator's line of sight.) 


What could a robotic objector do in these spaces? 
We believe that it could simulate many of the pos- 
sibilities for human action within fortified domains 
For example: 

Robotic graffiti writers. These robots are basically a 
combination of a remote control toy car linl<ed 
with air brushes and some simple chip technology 
When running smoothly this robot can lay down 
slogans (much like a mobile dot matrix printer) at 
speeds of 15 mph (see Part 1 1 ). 

Robotic pamphleteers. Simply distributing information 
in many spaces (such as malls, airports, etc.) can 
get a person arrested. T hese are the spaces where 
a robotic delivery system could come in handy— 
especially if deployed in flocks Remember, that 
people love cute robots (the anthropomorphic, 
round-eyed japanamation cute is a recommended 
aesthetic for this variety of robot), and are more 
likely to take literature from a robot than from 
most humans At the same time, the excessively 
cute aesthetic can lead to robotnapping. 

N oise robots Very cheap to make from existing parts 
Particularly recommended for indoor situations By 
just adding a canned foghorn or siren to a remote 
toy car one can create a noise bomb that can dis- 
rupt just about any type of small- to medium-scale 
proceeding into which it can be insinuated. 

T hese are but a few ideas of how relatively simple 
technologies could be used for micro disturbances 
Given the subversive imagination of Nettime's 
constituency it's easy to believe that better ideas 
and more efficient ways of creating such robots 
will soon be on the table H owever, it also has to be 
kept in mind that robotic objectors are of greater 
value as spectacle than they are as militarized 
resistance After all, they are only toybots Yet these 
objects of play can demonstrate what public space 
could be, and that there are other potentials in any 
given area beyond the authoritarian realities that 
secured space imposes on those within it. 


T here is a triple cost to this type of robotic prac- 
tice First, it does require a modest amount of elec- 
trical engineering knowledge, and as we all know, 
education costs money. Second, it requires access 
to basic tools, but a machine shop would be better 
Third is the cost of hardware Robots are expen- 
sive, and there is no getting around it. In the field 
of robotics proper, it is barely possible to build a 
toy for less than U S$10,000. We have brought the 
cost down to U S$100- 1,000, but this could add up 
very quickly for a garage tinkerer or for under- 
funded artists and activists. It seems safe to assume 
that a robot will be used more than once in most 
cases, but even so, robotic objectors are outside the 
parameters for a common, low cost, tactical 
weapon. To be sure, this research is in its experi- 
mental stages 



T his article is the first in a series of robotic objec- 
tor projects for the home roboticist/ anarchist. T his 
design combines the integrated perception and 
autonomous navigation skills of the human dissi- 


dent with the efficiency and compact size of a 
robot specifically adapted to the tactics and terrain 
of street actions The basic design callsfor a rough- 
ly shoebox-sized trailer to be drawn by a remote 
controlled vehicle. The trailer consists of an array 
of five spray paint units that are controlled by a 
central processor. T he vehicle is navigated into the 
target area by its human operator. At the appro- 
priate time a switch on the controller is thrown, 
signaling the start of the "action." As the vehicle 
rollsalong the ground, the row of spray cans prints 
a text message in much the same way that a dot- 
matrix printer would. For example, the word 
"CAPITALIST" would be written as: 

■k -k -k -k + k -k -k k k k k -k 

■k -k -k -k -k -k -k -k * + * ** ***** 

* * *** *** ** * ** 

* * *** * *** *** * * *** * * 

Depending on the nature of the action, the vehicle 
can either be navigated to a secluded "safe zone" 
or considered a worthy sacrifice in the name of 
robotic objection. 

T he skills needed to build this robot do not require 
an engineering degree, although they do require a 
reasonable amount of experience in building cir- 
cuits, programming micro-controllers (Basic 
STAM P), and shop skills/ metal working; the pro- 
ject might best be accomplished by a small group 
of individuals. 

M aterials: 

REMOTE CONTROL CAR CThiswill be by far 
the most costly aspect of this project. When cou- 
pled with the radio controller and essentials such as 
a battery charger, the vehicle represents a roughly 
$500 investment. What makes this car exceptional 
is that it needs to be capable of pulling 3-4 kilo- 
grams of additional weight and still maintain a top 
speed of 10-15 M PH . This generally means a sca- 
led-down version of a "Monster Truck," that is, 
multiple engines. Consult your local RC enthusi- 
ast—they love these sort of specialty problems It 
also must be able to receive three channels instead 
of the usual two.) 

RADIO CONTROLLER (Any three channel 
controller will do.) 

2 WHEELS (Lightweight street wheels from an 
RC catalog.) 

variety will be more than adequate here. Something 
in the neighborhood of 24v [.25-. 3 amp] that can 
hold itself shut against fairly vigorous tugging) 

BATTERIES (One to power the solenoids (proba- 
bly 24v) and one to power the circuitry [9v].) 

5 SPRAY CANS (The 3 oz miniature variety is 
best for reasons of weight and size. H owever, the 
industrial paint that road workers use could be 
used if the weight is less of a problem. Remember 
to choose a color that complements the terrain.) 

MICRO-CONTROLLER (Almost any standard 
chip [i.e., BASIC stamp] will suffice as long as it 
has at least two inputs and five outputs) LED/ 
OPTOTRANSISTOR (For use as an encoder.) 

and WIRE (Specific values cannot be given here, 
as there are too many variables to worry about.) 

RAW MATERIALS (1/32" aluminum or plastic 
sheet, lightweight plastic or wood square stock 
[1/4" by 1/4"].) 


T here are too many variables at work here to des- 
cribe the construction or components in extreme 
detail. Availability of surplus goods and access to 
means of production will vary from group to 

As with any robotics project, the strategy is to work 
on individual parts AND the overall product AT 
THE SAM E TIME. One needs to be building 
working sub-systems, while continually evaluating 
them to ensure that they will work together. 

T he project is divided into four subsystems 

1. M icro Controller (+software) 

2. Encoder 

3. Structure of Trailer 

4. Solenoid- >Spray-can system 

NEniM E / LOCAL / PAGE 298 

T he M icro Controller: 

A plethora of microcontrollers exist that are easy 
to use and learn. Any of the more popular pacl<- 
ages that clutter the pages of "hobbyist" maga- 
zines will suffice as long as they meet the require- 
ments of having at least two inputs and five out- 
puts The first input pin is used for the signal that 
comes from the controller and tells the micro- 
processor to start performing its task, that is, print 
the text. The second input pin is for the encoder 
that attaches to one of the wheels or axles T he 
encoder tells the processor how fast the vehicle is 
moving in terms of "clicks" (see encoder section). 
Each "click," or 1/ 4 turn of the wheels will mean 
that one column of a letter is to be printed. This 
allows the processor to adjust the space of the let- 
ters according to how fast the car is moving The 
five output pins are all used for controlling the sole- 
noids that activate the spray cans 

The Text: 

As mentioned earlier, the text is printed as if by a 
dot-matrix printer. Each individual letter is printed 
with a 5-by-3 grid of dots and therefore requires a 
minimum of 15 bits to be rendered. The most cost 
effective method of storing this data in terms of 
RAM would be to use 16-bit blocks (type SHORT) 
for each letter in your array and simply ignore the 
last bit. H owever, if you have the RAM , it may be 
more elegant to use one byte for each column 
(three columns per letter). This abstracts things a 
bit, making it easier to print simple graphics 
instead of text or to use the extra bits in each col- 
umn as a kind of control character. For instance, 
you could have a bit that controls how long the can 
sprays making it possible to have dots and dashes 
Depending on how much RAM the micro-con- 
troller has you could build a function into the chip 
thattranslatesthe text into a binary stream using a 
lookup table- for instance, 111111010011100 for 
the letter P, as in the example earlier. Such a table 
would use only around 52 bytes or so (2 bytes per 
letter times 26 letters). Or translation could be 
done offline and the stream hardcoded into the 
chip at programming time. 
The following is some pseudo-code that should 
give a fair idea of how the components interact 
with each other. 

Typedef COLUMN = a byte 

pinl = GO signal 
pin2 = luheel encoder 
pin3-7 = solenoids 

COLUMN the_lexl_array[» of letters] 
convert_text("THE MESSAGE TO PRINT") 


if(GO signal ON) //If it gets the GO 
//signal, the loop 
timer + 1 //must run 5 times with the sig- 
nal ON 

if(GO signal OFF) //before it luill GO. 

//This prevents false signals 
timer = 0 
ifCtimer > 5){ 
for(i = 1 to • of letters) { 
for(j =1 to 3){ //The number of columns 

//in a letter 
col = read_next_column(the_text_array) 
paint_column(col ) //writes the bits to 

//pins 3 thru 7 
wait (for encoder click) 

all pins OFF //puts a space between 

luait (for encoder click) 



Signal from Controller: (i.e., GO !) 
The average remote control car uses a minimum of 
two channels in order to be controlled by the 
remote. T hat is one channel controls forward and 
backward motion, and the other controls left and 
right motion. It is very easy to add channels by 
using standard parts from an RC hobbyist catalog 
I n this case, we need one more channel that will be 
used to trigger the text printing function. T he sig- 
nal that comes out of the receiver on the car is most 
likely going to be PWM (Pulse Width Mod), in 


which case the supplied code should be sufficient to 
direct the signal straight into the micro-controller. 
Should the signal happen to be analog, most micro- 
controllers have at least one pin that can receive an 
analog signal. 


There's no need to run out and buy a 600-degree 
optical encoder for this All we need is a standard 
LED and phototransistor pairing. They tend to 
look like this: 


I l_l I 
I I 

There are two standard ways of implementing 
these as an encoder. In one version, the principle 
works like thus: When the LED light hits the pho- 
totransistor, it is ON. When something is stuck in 
between them, it is OFF. All we do is attach a pin- 
wheel divided at 45-degree intervals to the axle of 
one of the wheels and have it pass through the cen- 
ter of the pairing, like this: 


"\" I /I I 
\ I / I I 

\|/ I I <- pinuiheel 

I /l\ I 

I / I \ _ I _ 

1/ l_\ ILIIIPI 

I l_l I 

p i nuihee 1 I I 

Trailer Construction: 

Anything more than a cursory description would be 
impossible here without the use of mechanical 
drawings or photographs (see upcoming web ver- 
sion). T he basic idea is that we have a trailer chas- 
sis resting on two wheels It is connected to the rear 
of the vehicle via some type of flexible joint. T he 
chassis can be made out of a sheet of lightweight 
plastic or aluminum with plastic or aluminum sup- 
ports T he spray cans are secured, lying flat on the 
trailer between the wheels A slot or window runs 
the width of the trailer below the spray nozzles and 
perpendicular to the spray cans (this is what they 
spray through). The solenoids are mounted on a 
shelf raised an inch or so above the spray nozzles 
T his allows room for the batteries and electronics to 
be stored underneath (see Fig. 2). 

Solenoid-spray-can mechanism: 
Mechanically speaking, this portion will be the 
most difficult to construct and will require a lot of 
kludging to get it right. What we've got is a row of 
five spray-cans facing downward and another row 
of five solenoids that must use their "pulling" 
motion to "push" the buttons of the spray cans 
This is probably most easily achieved by a simple 
system of fixed-pivot linkages The solenoids are 
arranged so that they are facing (plungers toward) 
the spray nozzles, and probably raised an inch or so 
above the nozzle center. The linkages should in the 
form of the letter Z, with joints at the corners and 
a fixed-pivot point somewhere in the Z diagonal. 
The plungers of the solenoids should attached to 
the upper portion of the Z and the lower one will 
touch the tip of the spray can. 

This is where the "clicks," described earlier, origi- 
nate. Each space in the pinwheel causes one click 
in the phototransistor. T he signal from the transis- 
tor is then passed on to pin 2 of the microcon- 
troller. In another variation on the same theme, the 
LED/ phototransistor pair are pointed at a black 
and white pinwheel (potentially the wheel hub). 
The light from the LED reflects off the white parts 
and triggers the phototransistor, sending it into an 
0 N state. T he light is absorbed by the black sec- 
tions, sending it into an OFF state. 

Fig 2 (Side View) 

I Sol.| = [ O-joint 

I o-pivot 

iBatteries I I I / 

I I I joint-0 — [] = ! spray I 

I I I \ 



The placement of the pivot point on the linl<age 
determines how much leverage is placed on the 
nozzle. This may take some tweaking to get 
enough pressure to make it spray on command. 


T he intentions of this article are two-fold. First, it 
presents one concrete example of how a robotic 

objector can be builtto be useful to resistant forces 
Second, it should open up critical discussion of the 
value, implications, and design of these tools 
Several prototypes are already in the construction 
phase of development and collective discourse can 
only enhance the process 




DATE: THU, 17 SEP 1998 23:18:59 +0200 

M arginal considerations of the first large-scale 
Italian meeting of the people who freely surf the 
net knowledge. 

As for certain big events, a big storm happened at 
the end of H ack It '98, the first real hacking and 
alternative informatic culture meeting set-up on a 
large scale in Florence (Italy). It seems the storm 
would to symbolically underline the liberation of 
an electric desire of being a community com- 
pressed for too much years in the nets anfratti, at 
the end of seminars, workshop, debates and com- 
puter experimentation, but today a little bit far 
from the end of the event, apart from trying the 
impossible effort of summarize in a few words the 
dozens of "digital events" that happened one after 
the other, I think it's the time of trying to analyze 
the reasons of this contents and spectators success, 
and what seems to be a sure big improvement in 
all the scene. The alternative Italian informatic 
scene is born ten years ago, thanks to a flourishing 
of microgroups, that were strong enough to sus- 
tain and improve passing time: the ones that will 
create Strano Network in Florence— The group 
behind the unforgettable occupation of the 
Bologna's I sola nel K antiere— theTurin scene, the 
Trento one, the Rome's BBs groups, "Decoder" 
(which I belong to), the Leoncavallo group and all 

the other meeting points in other Italian cities, as 
Bologna and Rome, and the others, that then 
founded the ECN net. Small collectives, often 
blocked in their action by modernity fear more or 
less distributed: mass-media, control and repres- 
sion organizations, institutional parties, even, 
sometimes, some large movement areas that just 
didn't understand the aims of the proposed social 
action, and in the end also the mainstream infor- 
matic panorama that felt and still feel as a bother 
the critic position of these situations At this follow 
a sort of isolation, even if in the early nineties, 
were organized big events as Piazza Virtuale in 
M llano, "Ink 3D" in Bologna, or the hacking ker- 
messe with high level debates at the Sociology 
Faculty in Trento, the "mutant" meeting in the S. 
Arcangelo di Romagna Festival, and the meeting 
at the M useo d'Arte Contemporanea Pecci in 
Prato. M oreover much years ago were watchwords 
and lifestyles of fundamental importance even 
today: as the need to share information and 
knowledge, to start nonprofit entry-level course, to 
create network and digital art directed from and to 
everybody to work on new rights, and to start writ- 
ing analysis on the tranformations of work. 
From then yet a lot of people contribute to these 
initiatives or public opinion campaigns, that 


obtained the press attention and very often tlie 
fears of secret services and M inistry of tlie I nterior, 
as tlieir annual reports on tlie "antagonist telemat- 
ics" from 1991 to today testify. But even in the myr- 
iad proposals, of the provoked expectations of new 
opened fronts, till now seems that the famous "new 
person" in theembrional stage, more developed in 
some European countries, here was still far off. And 
the situation, though all the efforts, seemed to don't 
move from the marginality zone in wich it was self- 
confined: maginality that was the obstacle to the 
start of dynamics worth of going beyond, with a 
certain costancy the mere presence of the events 
owners Every event, in the end, became in such a 
way for the elite, the avant-garde, for the young, 
hard to understand for the "external observer" not 
skilled enough to see the real significance of the 
event itself. 

The 1998 hackmeeting represented a turning 
point, giving clear signals on how the nation situa- 
tion is evolved. First of all for the great organiza- 
tional abilities of the Firenze's CPA, social center 
that even "under forced evacuation," in totally self- 
organized way had made available all the needed 
large areas for the debates, courses, meetings, full- 
time radio and TV pirate station, dozens of net- 
worked computers, and food and eating locations 
This great potential to self-organized and financed 
telematics have no equals in the other countries of 
the world, where the local authorities don't make 
evacuations, but provides for free the needed logis- 
tical structures The event has been defined as a 
"horizontal event" by the organization. "There are 
no organizers, teachers, public or users, but only 
people who take part." The event has been sub- 
stantially built through a collective discussion on 
the net, especially on the"lsolenella Rete^' and in the 
mailing list <>. 
Another winning point is given noting the quality 
of the competence showed: the knowledge passed 
level was very high, equal to the one of too much 
paid professionals, but the hackit strength is that all 
this became collective, with the necessary interac- 
tion. T he market force the pro to divide the knowl- 
edge into tiny parts, jealously protecting them, and 
fearing the users to leave them in the dust in case 
of need. I n the hacker-dome, on the other side, the 
access to knowledge is expanded to minimum. 

because everyone teach to others everything he 
knows And the gathering of the knowledges, as 
Pierre Levy states, it'sa lot more of the sum. of the 
single parts It's something more, new, and with 
more strength, and the system can't emulate it, due 
to the anticommercial nature of the sharing 
Another winner tactic has been realized in the 
focusing on themes on which making free and 
open courses on techniques available to everyone, 
but often misunderstood by the people as too much 
difficult and then abandoned. Among the others 
the crowded daily course about the personal 
encryption communications and the use of the 
cryptographic application Pretty Good Privacy 
(PGP), that clarified how to defend ourselves from 
the intruders, a problem often discussed and feared 
by the attendants Finally back to the people 
involved, these days showed that even here some- 
thing has started. T he networked computers shed, 
crowded twenty-four hours a day with people who 
could finally experiments with the machines, has 
expressed a clear sign: technical competence, 
belonging to a working or studying sector, will to 
have relationship with others, desire to meet face to 
face; the wide space of the social center was always 
crowded with dozens of people that switched from 
the computers to the debates 
T hese arethefuture perspectives: the event have to 
become annual, possibly in Milan for the next 
year; start national initiatives, thinking globally 
and acting locally as the "Day for the free pro- 
gramming" against the world presentation of 
Windows 98: to create a coordination about the 
digital legal rights and a project of inquiry (survey) 
about the working conditions in the national 
telematic. A group of initiatives that seem to think 
about the marginality days as gone. 

[Translated byAlessandro Ludovico.] 



DATE: THU, 8 OCT 1998 22:08:08 +0100 

The internet has generally been described as a 
decentralized system. Within it, people have 
immense power to communicate and to distribute 
their messages— in particular the ability to com- 
municate with complete strangers, something pre- 
viously monopolized by mass media. This is cor- 
rect from a bird's-^e view of the internet. But 
from each user's point of view, the internet has a 
different form. 

The conditions and rules of participation in the 
network imposed upon the user also define access 
conditions to the internet. T he system manager of 
the networl< is able to decide almost everything 
independently from the ordinary user. The envi- 
ronment of the user is very much subject to change 
according to the attitude this "superuser" takes It 
is not so easy to protect ordinary users from the 
decisions of the superuser employed by govern- 
ment or company 


The innovation of computer communication net- 
work (CCN) has had a dual character from the 
beginning; one is the grass-roots character, the 
myth of Apple computer and radical hackers in 
U.S. hippy subculture; on the other hand, 
ARPAnet created by the Pentagon. Hackers and 
media activists have struggled for their freedom 
against state interference and they have tried to 
disconnect from hierarchical networks and con- 
struct a computer counter culture with a tradition 
of freedom of cyberspace based on the grass roots 
But many countries, including Japan, introduced 
CCN as a state policy Therefore, the viewpoint of 
freedom within CCN only has a very fragile basis 
Freedom in CCN is not a de facto standard for net- 
work users I n the case of Japan, the spread of the 
internet opened a possibility of various previously 
inexperienced information traffics At the same 
time however, the mass of users retain the passive 
habits made during the mass media age. T he inter- 

active character of CCN does not function suffi- 
ciently We have not only to construct economical- 
ly socially and politically concrete free-access con- 
ditions, but also to create new values of network 
use— self-valorization for the cyberproletariat. 


For Japanese network activists, one of the biggest 
themes in recent years was a movement against a 
government-proposed wiretapping bill. Asa result 
of the opposition movements, the G overnment has 
not yet legislated the bill. The Japanese Govern- 
ment insists that wiretapping is indispensable to 
investigate criminal organizations such asYakuza 
and cult groups like AU M . But, this is only a poor 
excuse. It is well known that most of the wiretap 
investigations so far have been carried out illegally 
against left-wing political groups and various 
autonomous radical movements. (The Japanese 
Constitution asserts that the privacy of all commu- 
nication should be protected; the police can moni- 
tor communications legally only in very rare cases) 
Large-scale electronic surveillance by police needs 
a secret connection to the network backbone. N ip- 
pon Telephone and Telegram (NTT) monopolizes 
the fundamental part of the communication infra- 
structure in Japan and has supported illegal wire- 
tapping by police in several cases M oreover, the 
backbone of the internet passes through Nagata- 
cho where government agencies are concentrated. 
From an infrastructural point of view, these condi- 
tions give an advantage to the large-scale surveil- 
lance of CCN. 

Anti-wiretap-bill movements have been developed 
using the internet. Specifically we disclose the 
records of proceedings in the Laws Council of the 
Ministry of Justice and internal materials from the 
discussion in the Assembly We criticize articles of 
the bill in detail including the understanding of the 
criminal situation and the government's emphasis 
on the fear of terrorism to justify the law. Various 


statements opposing the law from network activists, 
lawyers' organizations, labor unions and journal- 
ists' organizations appear on the webpages of the 
Anti-Wiretap-Bill Project. By using the internet, we 
realize the connection and cooperation of small 
groups— something impossible using phone, fax, 
mail, printed news letters and other traditional 
communication tools because of their technological 
character as one-way or one-to-one communica- 
tion as well as the burden of their cost. H owever, 
the importance of action in the real world also 
remains M ass protest action in the national assem- 
bly, mass meetings and demonstrations are indis- 
pensable in order to change real politics 


H ow are the conditions of the real world related to 
CCN in Japan? The situation has become very 
serious for us. NTT can already track the phone 
number and location of someone using a mobile 
phone T he phone number and address or location 
of the caller was previously private. N ow it is out- 
side the range of the legal protection of privacy 
The traffic surveillance system, the so-called "N 
System" reads license plate of passing vehicles and 
transfers the data to a police mainframe The sys- 
tem is an enormous database that can confirm 
which car ran through where and when. The 
police state that the N System is used for the inves- 
tigation of traffic violations such as speeding But, 
after the system was introduced, there was no 
increase in the arrest rate for violation of traffic 
regulations The N system was however useful in 
the case of the AU M Shinri Kyo. It functioned as 
a system to sense the movement of the adherents' 
cars There is a suspicion that the N System is 
being used as a surveillance system for public 
order, not for criminal investigation. 
Not only cars but bicycles have to be registered 
with the police U sing the police online computer 
system, bicycle theft can be confirmed from the 
registration number within moments 
In Japan, private relationships tend to depend on 
public relationships— not as something coopera- 
tive but as a relationship dominated by the state 
The concept of the family is used not only for kin- 
ship but for company organization and state con- 
stitution. T herefore, private space is invaded by the 

state and public spaces like the street and commu- 
nity facilities are considered, not as belonging to 
people, but as possessions of the state We must 
construct rights to the city as a fundamental 
human right— something established for several 
centuries in the West. 


This may seem strange because Japanese cities 
have a chaotic face— an exotic and disordered 
image— like the movie Blade Runner, or as Chiba 
City appeared in the science fiction novels by 
William Gibson. The big cities like Tokyo and 
Osaka have wooden houses like temporary shel- 
ters alongside high buildings narrow, winding and 
labyrinthine paths intermingling with subways 
and highways Address indication is insufficient. 
People from outside get lost easily T hough such 
disorder is visible, control of city space by the gov- 
ernment and police is exhaustive. Street graffiti 
and posters are hardly seen, and there are few 
street vendors The temporarily vehicle-free 
promenades on Sunday are being abolished one 
after another The subway in New York recently 
got cleaned up— but the Japanese one has never 
been decorated with graffiti until now. Public 
transportation stops around midnight. 
The database of inhabitants is complete. The 
family registration system (koseki seido), which is 
characteristic for Japan, is the system of control 
by the state over the individual based on the patri- 
archal family Now, this traditional patriarchal 
system works via a database. M ovements in Japan 
have developed a struggle against such oppressive 
control: no family register system; no isolated 
education for handicapped people; no computers 
for surveillance and control; street rights for the 
homeless, and so on. 

Control and surveillance of the real world are 
done through the world of the computer network. 
T he real world and CCN are seamlessly connect- 
ed. We do not live in the dual worlds of the real 
"and" the "cyber" Both worlds form an insepa- 
rable, intertwined, one world. From the viewpoint 
of the information surveillance system of the 
state, our body is a terminal for CCN and a 
checkpoint in the real world. 0 ur body belongs to 
the world of the real and the cyber T herefore. 


our real/ cyber body is a battlefield for liberation 
movements for one world. 


Just as eighteenth-century industrial capitalism 
established the worl< ethic, postindustrial informa- 
tion capitalism has to establish a communications 

T he freedom to send information as a fundamen- 
tal right didn't get firmly established in Japan in 
the age of mass media. Free radio stations hardly 
exist except for a few, such Radio H ome Run, and 
experimental practices by Tetsuo Kogawa and Jun 
Oenol<i. There are no free radio stations by radi- 
cals. 0 n the other side, the internet expanded the 
circuit of information for individuals by using web, 
mail, newsgroups and so on. Network users come 
to doubt to the mass media system through the 
experience of hypertext and interactive communi- 
cation on CCN. But, this is not enough to guaran- 
tee the formation of new and alternative circuits of 
information in the real world. Thejapanese police 
arrest users who linl< to sites abroad upon which 
appear contents that would be illegal in Japan. 
C ounterculture has shaped alternative information 
network behind the scenes of the mass media. 
CCN allows people a similar power to publish 
information to mass media. Accordingly counter 
cultures become increasingly independent and 
form their own communication networks 
Dominant cultural capital cannot create new cul- 
tural product by their own effort, they need to 
exploit counter/ subculture. But, The cultural 
industry faces the loss of their resources In res- 
ponse, they try to integrate counterculture and to 
restructure the order of the networks T he monop- 
olization of so-called intellectual property and 
copyrights is their prime strategy for forcing an 
enclosure movement on C C N . T his new enclosure 
movement tries to establish information structures 
along capitalist lines; tracing the line of property 
sorting according to possibilities for commodifica- 
tion and criminalizing some forms of information. 
Electronic surveillance and wiretapping by police, 
and the information enclosure movement by mass 
media are in close cooperation with each other 
Both are processes of a new cyber/ real world 
order of information. If network users are inte- 

grated into this order, they are forced to exploit 
their communicative worl< and depend on the 
moral standards made by this new master 


The modern system of domination in the twenti- 
eth century has been based on a one-way informa- 
tion system. The modern nation state has repro- 
duced nationalism by the mass media and mass 
democracy. T he effective function of universal suf- 
frage was guaranteed only by such one-way infor- 
mation systems T he public receives a large quan- 
tity of information one-sidedly through the mass 
media. T he mass media behaves as if it represents 
public opinion and forms a stereotypical view of 
the world. The election system quantifies public 
opinion by the votes cast. M inority groups realize 
their interests only by the sympathy of majority 
groups The people's will isquantified and reduced 
to national will, national identity. The necessity of 
the reduction of people's opinion to quantified 
data is dependent on the level of data-processing 
technology I ndividualsturn into a countable mass 
Computer technology overcomes such a limit of 
data-processing From the management of cus- 
tomers to public welfare policy individuals recover 
their own characteristic attributes At the same 
time, computer technology has been developed for 
the interactive communication of individuals 
People need not necessarily present their opinions 
solely by voting or entrusting them to a candidate. 
T hey can make them themselves by using CCN. 


CCN gives a means of expression to minority 
groups without depending on the paternalism of 
the majority or of the representative system. 
Various connections amongst minority groups 
across state boundaries realizes worldwide solidar- 
ity. The geographical border becomes meaning- 
less. People who have the same interest cross bor- 
ders and cooperate. As a result of this national 
identity begins to vacillate. People prefer direct 
expression in the network to a quantified voting 
system. The limits to a political system of decision 
by the majority come into the open. Young peo- 
ple's voter turnout is very low in Japan. They dis 
trust the representative system. They become not 


apolitical, but refuse quantification of their politi- unconscious level. It may even become an oppor- 
cal will. T hey try to constitute self-valorization of tunity to dismantle the nation state, patriarchy and 
their own information. nationalism in Japan. 

This is a possibility for a new and radical politics of [Edited by M att Fuller and Diana McC arty.] 
singularity even though it is still perhaps at an 



DATE: THU, 8 OCT 1998 08:01:57 +0100 

First of all, this is what M ongrel has to say about 
their activities: 

Mongrel is a mixed bunch of people and 
machines working to celebrate the methods of an 
"ignorant" and "filthy" London street culture. We 
make socially engaged cultural product employing 
any and all technological advantage that we can 
lay our hands on. We have dedicated ourselves to 
learning technological methods of engagement, 
which means we pride ourselves on our ability to 
program, engineer and build our own software 
and custom hardware. The core members are 
Matsuko Yokokoji, Richard Pierre-Davis, and 
Graham H arwood. 

As well as starting and producing its own projects, 
M ongrel also works as an agency through which 
projects by other people can be set up and coordi- 
nated. This means that who does what isn't as 
important as what gets done, network We are as 
much about hip hop as about hacking M ongrel 
makes ways for those locked out of the main- 
stream to gain strength without getting locked into 
power structures. Staying hardcore means that 
M ongrel can get the benefit of sharing the skills 
and intelligence of people and scenes in similar sit- 
uations, as well as dealing with other kinds of 
structures on our own terms, collaborations 
M ongrel rarely operates as just a core group. We 

prefer to work on a range of specific collabora- 
tions T hese can be with organizations, individuals 
or groups The ability to plug into different skills, 
structures or ways of doing stuff means we get to 
stay fresh. 

N atural Selection is a project put together by H ar- 
wood and M atthew Fuller. T his project takes on 
the use of new communications technology for the 
dissemination and organization of various forms 
of eugenics, nationalism and racism. The project 
invents cultural strategies and uses of digital tech- 
nology to undermine and play with the expecta- 
tions of racialization in a manner which usurps or 
destroys it. M ongrel has hacked a popular internet 
search engine. When any searches are made on 
that engine for racist material the user gets 
dumped into a parallel network of websites set up 
by M ongrel. T his parallel network has been made 
in collaboration with a vast global network of col- 
laborators It is the nightmare the whites-only 
internet has been waiting for. 
National Heritage is a international project that 
commits audiences, artists and collaborators to a 
confrontation with their interpolation within cul- 
tural, biological and technologized racisms The 
project as a whole operates by means of street 
poster/ newspaper publication, a web search 
engine "Natural Selection," and a gallery installa- 
tion. In accomplishing its aims, the project will 


engender interpretive metliods of collaborative 
working between audiences, artists and project 
contributors that exploit the possibilities presented 
by new communications technology for art-work- 
ing within a social context. 

G L : W hat is your heritage? 
H: It is mongrel. The first category is "don't 
know." A bit of Irish and English. M y granddad is 
a bastard. People think he might be a bit Jewish. 
Then there are a few incestuous births My dad 
really did not know who he was because he got 
thrown out into the "care" of the authorities at the 
age of four. H is parents could not feed him. He did 
not know until he got shot in Korea, so after that 
he went to find them. They were more or less peas- 
ants H eritage in the wider sense meant poverty 
M y parents taught me that we could be proud of 
having nothing. To come from nothing is a fine 
place to be. I come from the land of fiddling You 
can always fiddle, get away with it. M y family was 
involved in a lot of gambling. We never had a place 
in society They always had illegitimate children. 
M y niece just had a child at fifteen. T here are five 
generations of women that are, more or less, close 
to each other. T hey support each other, and the 
men are there to make some fertilizer. 
M : The national heritage of japan, what it did to 
other countries and my own, personal history are 
inseparable. T here is an interesting period, last cen- 
tury, when surnames were being introduced. At that 
time people "bought" their heritage, so to say by 
choosing a name associated with a wealthy family 
GL: Could the history of the working class also 
belong to the national heritage? 
H : It is an antiheritage. It was a way of existing 
outside. In the U.K . there is very much a collective 
identity. England is 007, James Bond, the crack of 
leather on the willow of the cricket bat. 
Strawberries and cream. If that image is not yours, 
then it is there to exclude you. It is a bit loose 
because there is no monolith. There has never 
been a single nation or grouping in the U.K . 
GL: You recently published a poster/ paper Along 
with a black and white insert with material related 
to the Search E ngine project, which we'll talk about 
later, there are forty full-color heads, organized into 
some kind of grid. It's almost like a database with 

two available gender categories and four racial 
"types" and with what appear to beracialized masks 
actually sewn into the faces below. The paper also 
has a large logo— "National Heritage"... 
H : T his aspect of our project is a reference to the 
Department for National Heritage. It allocates all 
the arts funding in the U.K. We decided to make a 
project with that name, in order to make a direct 
reference to where the money comes from. 76 per- 
cent of all that goes to class A and B, people earn- 
ing over £ 30.000 a year. That tax money only goes 
to that wealthy class. The reason we have the white 
face with a black mask, covered in spit on the 
poster, with the words "N ational H eritage," points 
directly to this particular department. A revised 
version of their logo is on the poster. This racial 
dichotomy is the heritage of the nation. We make 
them complicit with us 

GL: Do you want this department to become 


H: That is their excuse for keeping power. 
M ulticulturalism is their method of classification, 
to maintain identities that are long since gone and 
not useful anymore. They would like to keep a 
binary authority, which no longer works Recently, 
a think tank close to the Labour government gave 
out a statement, saying that embassies abroad 
should no longer have any politically incorrect pic- 
tures Cover the walls with Brit art and remove the 
portraits of old colonial rulers Remove all refer- 
ence to British colonial rule. Do they really think 
that people in Egypt or India can be fooled, by 
thinking that the British empire never existed? 
Such emphasison imagelArtisnot that useful. But 
for them it is seen as a major prize. 
GL: How did you construct the images on the 

M : 0 ut of a total of a hundred faces we made 
eight faces and divided them into four colors: 
black, brown, yellow and white, both men and 
women. It is all montage, digital photography We 
tried to construct a white male, or black woman, 
according to what we think these categories look 
like. We can never prove that somebody is a white 
male person. H ow would you define a black per- 
son? There are no characteristics according to 
medical terms. There are no "real" categories, 
only stereotypes 


H : 0 n TV there was a program about people of 
mixed race, let's say 1/ 4 or 1/ 8 black. T hey were 
complaining because for them there is no classifi- 
cation. One of their grandparents are black, but 
most of them do not even know. 
M : I had never seen a Western person, for real, 
until I was eighteen. Only since the beginning of 
the eighties, when many people from all over the 
world started coming to Japan, did I start to recog- 
nize people of different color in the streets Only 
then, we became aware of the problem of racism. 
Before, the Americans were only on television. 
H : These days, many young Japanese do not show 
much interest in where th^^ are from. They see 
themselves as the future, not the past, the old 
Japanese culture. They live in the future. Any 
return to the past is horrifying because you will hit 
the brick wall of the Second World War. Japanese 
are good at hiding. The society can leave unre- 
solved problems 

GL: It sounds liberating, to leave the Benneton 
identity politics behind. ("I am from Ethiopia, look 
how beautiful— and pure— I am."). 
H : I n the sixties, my parents used to say things like, 
"Don't touch it because a black person has had it, 
you will get ill." At the same moment, they would 
say "M artin Luther K ing, he is a great bloke, he is 
going to free black people." Two complete oppo- 
site views expressed at the same time. We are mov- 
ing from that level of confusion. I grew up with ska 
music and black friends— and this black music was 
being sold to us, white skinheads So, the level of 
confusion concerning race isO K . T he single thing 
that seems to categorize white people was fear. T he 
fear to even talk about race. 0 r to express difficul- 
ty about it. We clearly come out as antirace, not so 
much as "anti racist." We are against the classifica- 
tion of race. That's what a mongrel is— some- 
where between two things, someone of mixed 
blood. 0 r it refers to a dog that has no category 
Dogs in the U.K . are very much a class issue. 
M : I lived for the last twelve years in London, so 
culturally I am mixed now, always fighting between 
Japanese and English. So I suppose that I became 
a mongrel. Since the eighties more and more 
Japanese started living abroad and brought back 
their mongrel culture to Japan. T hat's the positive 
side of the use of technologies 

H : M atsuko and I are of the same year. Despite all 
the differences, much of our media references are 
the same. The Thunderbirds We both grew up 
under the imperialism of the United States But 
then, Richard is bringing a lot of different ele- 
ments into the group! H e is a Black-I ndian-Welsh- 
French person from Trinidad. He is not so con- 
fused about his identity as perhaps others are: he is 
a black cockney— much more so than me. 
Compared to him, M atsuko becomes an honorary 
white person. 

M: In 1987, when I was visiting South Africa, 
which was still under Apartheid back then, show- 
ing my passport, I was being treated as a white. 
But if Chinese people would go there, they were 
categorized as "colored." 

GL: "Natural Selection" is another project by 
M ongrel, an internet search engine. D id you come 
up with this idea because well known search 
engines likeAltavista, are no longer useful because 
they always come up with thousands of references 
if you type in a keyword? 
H : We are looking at classification from another 
point of view. We created a search engine that sits 
on top of other search engines We strip out what 
they are saying and return the URLs It you type 
in any word which has got to do with race, eugen- 
ics or sex, you are dropped into our content. This 
means a whole load of websites being produced in 
collaboration with a variety of people and groups 
from a lot of different places in London, around 
the world and from different situations which they 
bring in to flavor the work— academic theorists 
street activists poets artists nutters whatever. 
If users look around carefully they will find the 
right keywords to access these sites— or they might 
do it without realizing. On the other hand, you 
might end up in a "real" Ku Klux Klan site, but 
you will not find out anyway whether you are read- 
ing one of our constructions or not. You need to 
be alert all the time as to where all the information 
you are reading is coming from. 
G L : W hat does the term "eugenics" mean to you? 
H : It was used recently by a friend who has brittle 
bone disease. She talked to me about it because she 
went to a hospital where they were killing off any- 
one like her. She made me aware that there was a 
certain type of human that was to be valued, while 


others weren't. At what level of disability do we 
discard those people? C ritical A rt E nsemble looked 
at how eugenics are coming into play within fertil- 
ity treatments We two went through such treat- 
ments, together with Critical Art Ensemble, and 
found out that a lot of such eugenic decisions had 
to be made. It was a hard project to go through. 
M : We are not judging what is good or bad, we are 
trying to give information. We don't say killing life 
in this or that stage is justified, or not. There is no 
answer. We do not value life or race. We are show- 
ing that it exists 

H : We are struggling to find images that deal with 
the complexities of the kind of lives that we are liv- 
ing now. T here is no longer black and white. 
There are no longer binary arguments So the 
right wing can jump on us and say: "So you are 
confused." We are just struggling to find images 
Sometimes they are complex and take a long time, 
like those faces on the poster. It is much harder to 
think about the same problem from six, maybe 
opposing, points of view, and hold them all equal- 
ly For me, all of this comes from M atsuko's influ- 
ence, from japan, where you are able to accept 
something before you judge it. In the West, I have 
been brought up to judge something before I have 
accepted it. 0 ne could even say that of antiracism 
and antifascism. A lot of the identity politics were 
useful, at the time. But the holding on, imagining 
the problem would be solved, instead of it slipping 
it through, like water through your hands* is what 
actually happened. That antifascism no longer 
works It has become a way to sell a product. N ot 
a way to deal with complexity in society. 
At the same time, I have absolute admiration for 
people that sleep on the floor of immigrant's 
homes in trouble, defending them with their bod- 
ies when the fascists come around. We engage in 
the imagery that forms around these topics We are 
in realm of producing troubling images Often our 
actual enemies turn out to be politically correct 
people. T he very name "M ongrel" is too difficult 
for them, let alone our intentions 
G L : You've also produced some software— let's see 
how it works H ere we have got a package called 
"Heritage Gold" on the screen. It is an ironical, 
bastardized version of Photoshop. We have 
imported my image into the system, and now you 

are going to give a new heritage. It's a good idea, 

let's go for it. 

H ; T his is family-oriented heritage changing soft- 
ware. You need some black and female. You can 
invent a new family You can have a bastard birth, 
revert your genes, you can have immigration, repa- 
triation, whatever. I am pasting the new color into 
your skin. It remindsyou how easy it isto manipu- 
late all this data from other people. T here will be a 
huge demand in the West for this software when it 
goes on full release as people feel a general discon- 
tent about their heritage. It will become important 
to have racial mobility. T his menu allows us to add 
more C hinese and African into your makeup. You 
never have to have a sun tint again. In order to 
make you even more dark, we go to the "fleshtone 
adjustment" dialogue box. We will extract some of 
the Aryan elements— and you are really beginning 
to show through now. We will add some social ele- 
ments too. We are offering a social filter of 
"police." You look a bit more criminal... We also 
add some historical relations A bit less imperial- 
ism. Put in some more Afro. We can resize your 
family by a certain percentage, raise your class con- 
sciousness. And then there are the different file 
formats in which we can save you: genetic index, 
pixel punish, raw, regressive... There you are— 
here, you got your brand-new heritage. 

[National Haitage and the Natural Selection Search Engine 
Interview with H arwood and M atsul<o of M ongrel (London) at 
0 penX , Ars Electronica, September 9, 1998. See 
<http:// www.mongrel.orguk>.] 






DATE: WED, 16 SEP 1998 22:20:09 +0200 (MET DST) 

This message is directed to those who are fed up 
with repressive politics at their doorsteps, who are 
not frustrated enough to give up a critical position 
and a perspective of political intervention, and 
who also refuse to believe that radical politics need 
to be straight, mostly boring and always very seri- 
ous It also addresses those who are interested in 
artistic expression, using all kinds of materials and 
techniques such as wall-painting, woodcarving, or 
the internet to bend the rules of normality. 
It issent by some provincial communication guer- 
rillas as an invitation to participate, criticize, 
renew and develop a way of doing politics which 
expresses the bloody seriousness of reality in a 
form that doesn't send the more hedonistic parts 
of ourselves immediately to sleep. Of course, this 
is a contradiction in itself: How can you be witty 
in a situation of increasing racism, state-control 
and decline of the welfare state, to name only a 
few. 0 n the other hand, even K arl M arx didn't 
postulate boredom as revolutionary 
The starting point for our reflections around guer- 
rilla communication was a trivial insight from our 
own politics: information and political education 
are completely useless if nobody is interested. After 
years of distributing leaflets and brochures about 
all kinds of disgraces, of organizing informative 
talks and publishing texts, we have come to ques- 
tion the common radical belief in the strength and 
glory of information. Does it really make sense to 
take on the attitude of a primary schoolteacher 
while the kids have become skinheads, slackers, or 
joined the rat race? 

Traditional radical politics strongly rely on the per- 
suasive power of the rational argument. T he con- 
fidence that the simple presentation of information 
represents an effective form of political action is 

almost unshakable. C ritical content and the unim- 
peded spread of "truth" are supposed to be suffi- 
cient to tear up the network of manipulating mes- 
sages, with which the media influence the con- 
sciousness of the masses Well, since the declara- 
tion of postmodernism it has become a bit 
involved to insist on The One And Only Truth. 
But the main problem with traditional concepts of 
radical political communication is the acceptance 
of the idea: "whomsoever possesses the senders 
can control the thoughts of humans" This 
hypothesis comes from a very simple communica- 
tion model which only focuses on the "sender" (in 
case of mass communication usually centrally and 
industrially organized), the "channel" which 
transports the information, and the "receiver." 
The euphoria around information society as well 
as its pessimistic opposition— which worries about 
information overkill— do not face the crucial 
problem of citizens' representational democra- 
cies: facts and information, even if they become 
commonplace, do not trigger any consequences 
Face it, even if stories of disasters, injustice, social 
and ecological scandals are being published, it has 
almost no consequences 

Everybody knows that the ozone layer is fading 
away Everybody knows that the rich are getting 
richer and the poor are getting poorer... To us, who 
believe in Communism, it is hard to understand 
why such knowledge doesn't lead to revolution and 
fundamental change— but it definitely doesn't. 
Reflections on the interrelations between the recep- 
tion of information, knowledge and the options to 
act within a social context have tackled how infor- 
mation becomes meaningful and how it then 
becomes socially relevant. Information by itself has 
neither meaning nor consequences— both are cre- 


ated only through the active reception and through 
the scope of action of the audience. But this basic 
banality has far too rarely been taken into consid- 
eration within the frameworl< of radical politics 
Guerrilla communication doesn't focus on argu- 
ments and facts lil<e most leaflets, brochures, slo- 
gans or banners. I n it's own way it inhabits a mili- 
tant political position, it is direct action in the space 
of social communication. But different from other 
militant positions (stone meets shopwindow), it 
doesn't aim to destroy the codes and signs of 
power and control, but to distort and disfigure 
their meanings as a means of counteracting the 
omnipotent prattling of power. Communication 
guerrillas do not intend to occupy interrupt or des- 
troy the dominant channels of communication, but 
to detourn and subvert the messages transported. 
But what's new about all this? After all, there have 
been the Berlin Dadaists, the Italian Indiani 
M etropolitani, the Situationists T he roots of com- 
munication guerrilla can be traced back to leg- 
endary characters like the Hapsburgian soldier 
Svejkand Till Eulenspiegel, the wise fool. Walking 
in the footsteps of the avant gardes of earlier times 
we do not attempt to boast about the invention of 
a new politics or the foundation of a new move- 
ment. Rather, guerrilla communication is an inces 
sent exploration of the jungle of communication 
processes of the devoured and unclear paths of 
senders codes and recipients The method of this 
exploration is to look not just at what's being said, 
but to focus on how it is being said. T he aim is a 
practical, material critique of the very structures of 
communication as bases of power and rule. 
The bourgeois system takes it's strength— beyond 
other things— from the ability to include critique. A 
government needs an opposition, every opinion 
needs to be balanced with another one, the concept 
of representative democracy relies on the fiction of 
equal exchange Every criticism which doesn't fun- 
damentally shatter the legitimacy of the ruling sys 
tem, tends to become part of it. Guerrilla commu- 
nication is an attempt to intervene without getting 
absorbed by the dominant discourse. We are look- 
ing for ways to get involved in situations and at the 
same time to refuse any constructive participation. 
Power relations have a tendency to appear normal, 
even natural and certainly inevitable They are 

inscribed into the rules of everyday life. 
Communication guerrillas want to create those 
short and shimmering moments of confusion and 
distortion, moments that tell us that everything 
could be completely different: a fragmented Utopia 
as a seed of change Against a symbolic order of 
western capitalist societies which is built around 
discourses of rationality and rational conduct, 
guerrilla communication relies on the powerful 
possibility of expressing a fundamental critique 
through the non-verbal, paradoxical and mythical. 
To be quite clear: guerrilla communication isn't 
meant to replace a rational critique of dominant 
politics and hegemonic culture It doesn't substi- 
tute counterinformation, but creates additional 
possibilities for intervention. But also, it shouldn't 
be misunderstood as the topping on the cake, a 
mere addition to the hard work of "real" politics 
and direct, material action. 
In its search for seeds of subversion, guerrilla com- 
munication tries to take up contradictions which 
are hidden in seemingly normal, everyday situa- 
tions Itattemptsto distort normality by addressing 
those unspoken desires that are usually silenced by 
omnipresent rules of conduct, rules that define the 
socially acceptable modes of behavior as well as 
the "normal" ways of communication and inter- 
pretation. To givejust a simple example: most peo- 
ple will say that it is not okay to dodge paying the 
fare, even if there is a widespread feeling that pub- 
lic transport is over-expensive If, however, some 
communication guerrillas at the occasion of an 
important public event like the funeral of Lady D i 
manage to distribute fake announcements declar- 
ing that for the purpose of participating, public 
transport will be free, the possibility of reducing 
today's expenses may tempt even those who doubt 
the authenticity of the announcement. 
Communication guerrillas attack the power-rela- 
tions that are inscribed into the social organization 
of space and time, into rules and manners into the 
order of public conduct and discourse. Everywhere 
in this "cultural grammar" of a society there are 
legitimations and naturalizations of economic, 
political and cultural power and inequality 
Communication guerrillas use the knowledge of 
"cultural grammar" accessible to everybody in 
order to cause irritations by distorting the rules of 


normality: It is precisely this kind of irritations that 
put into question seemingly natural aspects of social 
life by mal<ing the hidden power relations visible 
and offering the possibility to deconstruct them. 
U sing a term coined by Pierre Bourdieu, one might 
say that guerrilla communication aims at a tempo- 
rary expropriation of cultural capital, at a distur- 
bance of the symbolic economy of social relations 
Go I nternet, experience the future! M any communication 
guerrillas feel a strange affection towards living in 
the backwoods of late-capitalist society. I n the field 
of communication, this causes an inclination 
toward the use and abuse of outdated media, such 
as billboards, printed books and newspapers, face- 
to-face, messages-in-a-bottle, official announce- 
ments etc. (Even Hakim Bey has advocated the 
use of outdated media as media of subversion). 
Thus it is hardly astonishing that communication 
guerrillas are skeptical about the hype in and 
around the internet. 

Of course, we appreciate ideas like the absolute 
absence of state control, no-copyright, the free 
production of ideas and goods, the free flow of 
information and people across all borders, as they 
have been expressed by theCalifornian net-ideolo- 
gy of freedom-and-adventure: liberalism leading 
us directly into hyperspace. But we also know that 
real neoliberalism is not exactly like this but 
rather: freedom for the markets control for the 
rest. It has become obvious that also the internet is 
no virtual space of freedom beyond state and cor- 
porate control. We are afraid that the still existing 
opportunities of free interchange, the lines of 
information transmission beyond police control, 
and the corners of the net which are governed by 
potlatch economy and not by commercialism, will 
fade away The aesthetics of the internet will not 
be dictated by cyberpunks but by corporate self- 
representation with a background of a myriad of 
middle-class wankers exhibiting on corporate- 
sponsored homepages their home-sweet-homes 
their sweet-little-darlings and garden gnomes 
The structures and problems of communication in 
the net do not differ fundamentally from those 
encountered elsewhere, at least not as much as the 
net hype wants to make believe. A product of net 
thought, like M ichael H alberstedt's "Economy of 
Attention" starts out from a quite trivial point: T he 

potential recipients are free to filter and discard 
messages (They may do even much more with 
them!). And they do this not mainly according to 
content, but using criteria which may be conceived 
in terms of cultural grammar and cultural capital. 
This is completely evident to anybody (except 
SWP militants) who has always distributed leaflets 
to people in the street though media hacks seem to 
have discovered this fact only since the net offers 
everybody the possibility to widely distribute all 
kinds of information. In simple words: the basic 
problems of communication are just the same on 
both sides of the electronic frontier 
Focusing on the influence of the social and cultur- 
al settings on the communication process, commu- 
nication guerrillas are skeptical toward versions of 
net politics and net criticism, which hold an uncrit- 
ical belief in the strength and glory of information. 
"Access for all," "Bandwidth for all": these are 
legitimate demands if thenetisto be more than an 
elitist playground of the middle classes In the 
future, access to adequate means of communica- 
tion may even become a vital necessity of everyday 
life. But information and communication are not 
ends in themselves; first of all, they constitute an 
increasingly important terrain of social, political 
and cultural struggle. Inside and outside the net, 
communication guerrillas seek to attack power 
relations inscribed into the structure of communi- 
cation processes In the dawn of informational 
capitalism, such attacks become more than just a 
method, more than merely a technology of politi- 
cal activism: When information becomes a com- 
modity and cultural capital, a most important 
asset, the distortion and devaluation of both is a 
direct attack against the capitalist system. To say it 
in a swanky way: T his is class war 
Increasing attempts to police the net, to establish 
state and corporate control will, paradoxically 
increase its attractiveness as a field of operation of 
communication guerrillas: Possibly even those of 
us who until now do not even own a PC will get 
W ired then. Fakes and false rumors inside and out- 
side the net may help to counteract commodifica- 
tion and state control— after all, the internet is an 
ideal area for producing rumors and fakes And, of 
course, where technological knowledge is available 
there are innumerable opportunities to fake or 


hijack domains and liomepages, to spoil and dis- 
tort tlie flux of information. Guerrilla communica- 
tion relies upon the hypertextual nature of com- 
munication processes (Also a newspaper or a traf- 
fic sign has plenty of cross-linl<sto other fragments 
of "social text"; a medium transporting plain text 
and nothing else cannot exist.) Communication 
guerrillas consciously distort such cross-linl<s with 
the aim of recontextualizing, criticising or disfigur- 
ing the original messages In the net, hypertextual 
aspects of communication have for the first time 
come to the foreground, and the net hypertext 
offers fascinating possibilities for all kinds of 
pranks (Imagine a hacker leaving on a homepage 
of, say the CIA not a blunt "Central Stupidity 
Agency" (see <http:/ / cia/ p_2. 
html>) but simply modifying some of the links 
while leaving everything else as before. T here are 
terrible things one could do in this manner...) 
But the fascination of those possibilities should not 
lead to a technocentric narrowing of the field of 
vision. T he mythical figure of the hacker represents 
a guerrilla directed towards the manipulation of 
technology— but to which end? The hacker gets 
temporary control of a line of communication— but 
most hacl<ers are mainly interested in leaving web 
graffiti or simply "doing it" (see the Hacker 
Museum <>). Others how- 
ever, rediscover guerrilla communication practices 
of the ancient— recently in <nettime> net-artist 
Heath Bunting slated himself in a fake review 
("Heath Bunting: Wired or Tired?" 
<>), thus re-in- 
venting a method thatM arx and Engelshad already 
used when they faked damning reviews by first-rank 
economists to draw attention to Das Kapital. 
Communication guerrillas are fascinated by possi- 
bilities offered by the internet in a very different 
sense: beyond its reality, the net is an urban myth, 
and perhaps the strongest and most vital of all. 
Social discourse conceives of the net as a "place" 
where people, pleasures, sex and the crimes of 
tomorrow are already taking place. G o I nternet, learn 
the Future! Fears and desires are projected onto the 
net, the mythical place where we can see the future 
of our society Paradoxically the gift of prophecy 
attributed to the net gives credibility to any infor- 
mation circulated there. The "real world" believes 

it because it comes from the realm of virtuality, 

and not despite this 

For a long time in the German backwoods there 
has been a game called "the invention of C H AO S 
days," a rather simple game: someone osts a note 
on saying that, on day X, all the punks of Ger- 
many will unite in the town of Y to transform it 
into a heap of rubble. T he announcement is made, 
and a few leaflets (a dozen or so) are distributed to 
the usual suspects And on that day a procession of 
media hacks of every kind encounters hosts of riot 
squads from all over Germany on their way to Y: 
Once again the forces of public order were on 
their way to protect our civilization against dark 
powers T he most astonishing thing about this lit- 
tle game is that it actually worked— several times, 
no less. Obviously for the guardians of public 
order and public discourse, the net is a source of 
secret knowledge too fascinating to be ignored. 
We do not mention in detail the innumerable occa- 
sions when journalists, state officials, secret servic- 
es agentc, and so on were taken in by false rumors 
circulating in the net— for example, the major 
German press agency DPA, which fell for a home- 
page of a fake corporation offering human clones, 
including replicas of Claudia Schiffer and Syl- 
vester Stallone. T his effect can be reproduced: the 
next time it was the prank about "ourfirsttime. 
com" (<>). There's 
little danger that media hacks will ever learn. 
The net is a nice playground for communication 
guerrillas But we, out there in the backwoods are 
telling those living in the netscapes of electronic 
communication: don't forget to walk and talk your 
way through the jungle of the streets to visit the 
devastated landscapes of outdated media, to see 
and feel the space and the power and the rule of 
capitalism— so you shall never forget what pranks 
are good for. 

[All rights dispersed.] 




DATE: MON, 02 MAR 1998 19:46:44 +0000 

The Open Society Institute offices of Budapest 
and M ongolia organized a training course in elec- 
tronic publishing in February in Ulan Bator, 
Mongolia. The purpose of the training was to 
impart the necessary skills to newcomers in the 
world of electronic publishing and electronic 
media. M ongolia has been online for almost a 
year— a quantum leap into a new era. Years of liv- 
ing behind the curtain (whatever curatin) had left 
their mark: very few people in M ongolia were in a 
position to take advantage of the new possibilities 
of global self-expression. 

The participants were impressive, both in their 
sheer numbers and their determination to learn 
new facts and acquire new skills From an initial 
enrollment of 25, the group jumped to 150, of all 
ages and occupations. A large number of young 
people were included, but there were more from 
older groups actively participating. The reception 
of each new technique or area of knowledge was 
unique and touching. By way of example, after a 
lecture on copyright and privacy issues on the 
internet, the whole group of more than 100 par- 
ticipants stood and applauded in an emotional out- 
burst. 0 nly in this place at thistime could a lecture 
of this kind induce such an emotional reaction. 
And in the face of such a reaction, a lecturer is 
simply overcome by his own personal limitations 
Almost all the time, contact with the group was 
an open, two-way street: the trainers would 
impart the facts and practice of the new media, 
while the participants would lead us toward real- 
ly important matters 

At present, M ongolia has just one internet service 
provider, Datacomm. The company is young and 
is owned and managed by a very intelligent and 
progressive group of people Besides the obvious 
possibility of monopolistic behavior, Datacomm 

still acts, to a large extent, as a missionary organi- 
zation. T hey are also providing daily training as far 
as the human limitations of the staff permit. T he 
company has more than a thousand users There 
are two places for access by the general public: a 
classroom of the Technical U niversity, with more 
than 50, and a Center for internet education. This 
provides the broader public with a venue for cyber- 
gathering The overall bandwidth in and out of the 
country is 128 kbs, which is adequate, but Data- 
comm has announced a planned expansion. New 
providers are also about to set up. The price for 
internet access is still high, even by international 
standards T his is the consequence of extremely 
expensive satellite time and international tele- 
phone lines 

Internet and satellite technology are seen in 
Mongolia as multipurpose. On the international 
scale, the principle is to present the country to the 
world and forge closer links with people world- 
wide, as well as entering electronic commerce 
(whatever that is). 0 n the domestic scene, the new 
technologies are a vehicle for internal cohesion. 
M ongolia is a huge country with an area almost as 
great as Europe, but a population of only 2.5 mil- 
lion. The telecommunications infrastructure is 
very poor, and some regions have no connection at 
all, beyond poor-quality lines to the capital, Ulan 
Bator. So email exchange and satellite links are a 
must if the country is to function in a normal way 
The media scene in Mongolia is particularly 
unclear, at least to the casual visitor. Both print and 
electronic media are very keen to keep the public 
informed with modern news programs, in what 
they see as a world standard package State televi- 
sion dominatesall theother media. Domestic news 
preoccupations are more or less educational, rang- 
ing from advice to eat more vegetables, to discus- 


sion on whether prostitution is good (for tourism) 
or bad (because of the danger of AIDS). All televi- 
sion channels, including the state broadcaster, 
carry regular soap operas— which, judging by their 
quality and apparent budget, have their origins in 
Russian anticopyright corporations On the other 
hand, state television, which leases eight hours of 
satellite time per day is willing to allow independ- 
ent media to use the four hours of that time it has 
not programmed. M ongolian Television called on 
the private broadcasters to provide programming, 
preferably nondocumentary for the unused hours 
There are four independent radio and television 
stations operating in Mongolia. Th^ carry little 

information or political programming, offering a 
daily fare of MTV-lil<e broadcasts, serials, and 
films It is very difficult to tall< about critical inde- 
pendent media in any sense we are used to. The 
reason for this situation is not necessarily suppres- 
sion, nor any reluctance to indulge in critical dis- 
course; rather, M ongolia is to a large extent a soci- 
ety very free of conflict. T here is basic social con- 
sensus on the major questions of state legislation, 
economy and religion. There may well be more 
profound conflicts concealed by the belief that 
economic development without turbulence will 
achieve the most for the welfare of the nation. 


DATE: TUE, 27 OCT 1998 17:31:51 +0100 

At the beginning of 1997, before the meltdown, 
the haze and the "illegals," Malaysian tekno- 
dreamscapes reached high into the sky H uge new 
airports, massive hydroelectric dams, mega shop- 
ping and apartment complexes, 2 million "for- 
eign" construction workers building the future, 
and double digit projections in the 2020 Vision- 
Prime Minister Mahathir's booster theme, now 
"delayed," for working towards "developed nation 
status" by the year 2020. Prime M inister Datuk 
Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad was only pre- 
vented by a virusfrom a planned promotional visit 
to the U K that year, but he did manage to make it 
to Hollywood. The dreaming schemes of hyper- 
modernity have been touring the world— LA, 
Tokyo, Berlin— and the future seems very close 
indeed. The "Multimedia Super Corridor" (a 
planned research and development facility with 
integrated educational, living and manufacturing 
components) is only a construction contract away 
despite a few hiccups in monetary policy which 
have clouded the horizon. 
The Koridor Raya Multimedia or Multimedia 

Super Corridor (MSC) planned for Malaysia's 
cyberfuture takeoff has always been an interna- 
tional project. In LosAngelesa cabal of the "great 
minds" (New Straits Times, January 18, 1997) met 
with Mahathir in a specially convened "Advisory 
Panel," to flesh out the flashy proposals that would 
transform the urban skyline— and revitalize con- 
struction industry cash flows in difficult times T he 
assembled great minds included CEOs and 
Directors of multinational corporations such as 
Siemens, Netscape, Motorola, Sony Compaq, 
Sun, IBM and more. The Chancellor's Professor 
of UCLA was there, and Bill Gates was invited 
though didn't come. (Gates announced in M arch 
1998 that he will set up his "Asian" M icrosoft 
operation in Hyderabad, I ndia.)T he discussion no 
doubt was convivial and deals floated, negotiated, 
traded and made. 

What was under consideration at this LA talk-fest 
was an integrated high-tech development project 
designed to make K uala Lumpur and surrounds— 
a fifteen by fifty-kilometer zone south from the 
city— the information hub of Southeast Asia. (The 


Dream: the seven Flagship Applications of the 
M SC are Electronic Government, Smart Schools, 
M ultipurposeCards, Telemedicine, R&D Clusters, 
Borderless Marl<eting and Worldwide Manu- 
facturing Webs The first four Flagship Applica- 
tions—Electronic Government, Smart Schools, 
M ulti-Purpose Cards, Telemedicine— are catego- 
rized under "M uiti media Development," while the 
other three are categorized under "M ultimedia 
Environment.")Trumpet headlines announced the 
future in the Times, the Star, and the Sun. PM 's 
speeches and supporting echoes from M inisters 
proclaimed that the M SC project would "harmo- 
nize our entire country with the global forces shap- 
ing the information age" (M ahathir's speech in 
L.A. on January 14, 1997— from the special web 
page advertising the project— <http://www.mdc.>). Of course, harmonization with 
orchestrated multinational info-corps makes for 
singing pras in the press. The headlines scream: 
"Global Bridge to the Information Age," "MSC 
immensely powerful, unique" and "PM's Visit to 
US Triggers Excitement." Big dreams indeed. 
Even the pop-electronic fanzine W ired got in on the 
buzz and called the project, quite favorably it 
seems, "X anadu for Nerds" (5.08, August 1997). 
But in the context of Malaysia's present "stand- 
ing" in the international marketplace, and in ela- 
tion to determined priorities and prospects for the 
peoples of M alaysia, what exactly is to be in this 
M ultimedia Super Corridor? what are the serious 
prospects for its success? and by what criteria 
should it be assessed? I want to address these ques- 
tions from several perspectives critical of the good 
news propaganda of the proposal itself T he pro- 
motional material, as can be expected, does not 
spare the hype: 

Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor {M SC) is a bold ini- 
tiative—a regional launch site for companies developing 
or using leading multimedia technologies. Aiming to rev- 
olutionize how the world does business, the MSC will un- 
lock multimedia's full potential by integrating ground- 
breaking cyberlaws and outstanding information infra- 
structure in an attractive physical environment. (Webpage) 

The key parts of the proposal include a series of 
research and development "clusters," basically sci- 

ence labs and info-technology factories, located 
near a new airport and a "cybercity" including 
state-of-the-art condos, shopping complexes, and 
transportation facilities, in a secure (everyone must 
carry an electronic "National M ultipurpose identi- 
ty Card") and "attractive" garden city. Telemedici- 
ne, Electronic Government and full ("uncensored") 
internet connectivity are also touted. All this over- 
seen bythetwin advisory bodiesof theM ultimedia 
Development Corporation— they put up the web- 
site— and the advisory panel of expert internation- 
al "great minds" 

Why did the first M SC promotion meeting take 
place in Beverly H ills? Well, obviously the internet 
and international connectivity of the grand scale 
to attract the likes of Gates (Microsoft) and 
Gerstner (IBM ) is not yet readily available in Kuala 
Lumpur itself Similarly Mahathir went direct 
from L.A. to japan for another parallel high-level 
corporate luncheon. T he point is to attract invest- 
ment, or rather tenants, for the research laborato- 
ries that will be built. 0 ne does not want an empty 
corridor, so one travels to where the clients are. An 
open invitation. 

But what is the invitation to? T he development of 
Science City ventures such asthisisnota new idea, 
though it has become something of a craze since 
the first versions of the concept of integrated sci- 
ence city living was spawned out of the heads of 
the planners at Japan's M ITI. Engineering new 
Silicon Valleys has become the grand vision of 
subsequent planners from "Silicon Glen" in 
Scotland, to the M ultifunction Polls in Adelaide. 
N ot always successfully do more than three hun- 
dred such ventures compete for relatively rare 
technology research pay-offs, as the cutting edge of 
such research is closely guarded and nurtured by 
the wealthy megacorporations I n this context, suc- 
cess of a Science City is initially about confi- 
dence—the importance of hype. H ere, the future 
can seem very fragile indeed. From the beginning 
of the year when the prime minister was talking up 
the "2020 Vision" vision with super conferences in 
H ollywood, to the C N N televized roller-coaster of 
the virtual market stock exchange troubles, it's 
been a dynamic time for futures in M alaysia. 
The 2020 Vision "has been delayed," Mahathir 
was forced to announce, as speculative capital 


became more tentative and the projects which 
formed the core of the vision of achieving 
"Developed Nation status" in twenty-three years 
were put on hold. The complex repercussions of 
the slide of the M alaysian R ingitt and other stocl<s, 
along with controversies over projects such as the 
Bal<un Hydroelectric dam in Sarawal<, and "the 
H aze" problem afflicting the region, have clouded 
projections and predictions Development and 
profitability seem less secure than before; the tallest 
building (twin towers Petronas), the biggest airport, 
the longest office, the undersea electricity cable 
and the Cyber-M alaysia Multimedia Super 
Corridor now all appear as costly monuments 
(whether completed, stalled or abandoned) to the 
precarious gamble of speculative development 
within very late capitalism. 0 f all the new big proj- 
ects that marked M ahathir's M alaysia as the go- 
ahead new tiger cub of Southeast Asia, only the 
M SC project, and related services attractive to 
international R&D such as the airport, have sur- 
vived the imposed austerities of the currency crisis 
C onfidence and hype require more than big build- 
ings and upbeat reviews on CNN. 

T he mass media soundbite context is not the only 
one in which I would want to assess the M SC . For 
starters, the M SC was planned well before the 
much-hyped "crisis" was even a gleaming twinl<le 
in international imperialism's eye. The M alaysian 
state has pursued a vigorous technological devel- 
opment program, ostensibly to "catapult" itself 
within the next thirty years into the fabled zone of 
"developed nation status" On the bacl< of the 
Asian Tiger rhetoric of vibrant Southeast Asian 
economies, this l<ind of advertised ambition was 
accepted by many despite the obvious enormity of 
the task and despite the almost equally obvious 
lack of substance to these proclamations(even with 
massive double-digit growth over many years, the 
chances of the M alaysian economy reaching levels 
equivalent to that of major E uropean, or any other 
Western, powers was slim). H ere it's worth noting 
the new comprador build-and-be-damned cow- 
boy-styles of Mahathir and his cronies, with 
emphasis on the speculative opportunistic nature 
of ventures: the world's tallest building, the longest 
submarine electricity cable, the empty tower blocks 

of condosand the jammed road system filled with 
"Proton" cars (the millionth Proton rolled off the 
assembly line in January 1997). Corresponding 
kickbacl<s in contracts and short-term gains went 
to the favored few. (T he scandal over the award of 
the prize Bakun Hydro-electrical dam project to 
Ekran Ltd., the company in which the Chief 
M inister of Sarawak's sons had substantial hold- 
ings, was only one among many) T he mass of the 
population did not become "Asian Tigers" The 
glamour projects could not hide the fact of increas- 
ing immiseration, the narrow and low nutrient 
day-to-day existence of the hawkers, farmers and 
peddlers who crowded the cities and towns, the 
worsening economic situation in the villages, and 
the years of repressive governmental corruption 
and favoritism which leached even the limited 
potential of prosperity from the hands of the poor 
into the overseas bank account of the elite. The 
context of the Asian Crisis, and the MSC, then 
includes the expanded parallel economy of food 
and goods hawkers, the illegal and undocumented 
workers, increasing sexual and other service work 
for many and uneven opportunities and exploita- 
tion, especially of women and "foreigners" and 
those excluded under the sectarian brumiputra legis- 
lation that favored M usiim M alays over Chinese, 
Indian or Orang Asli (indigenous) peoples in busi- 
ness, university, and government service. 

H ow did the situation in M alaysia— and Southeast 

Asia more generally— come to the impasse where 
the "crisis" could so rapidly unravel the Asian 
Tiger hype as it has done? It is important to 
remember that the foundation of the "Asian mira- 
cle" which enabled the "tigers," and even the 
"cubs," to succeed was not some ethnic value or 
"Confucian" mindset, nor some trickle down effect 
of development finally reaching some of the non- 
Euro-American zones, under the auspices of glob- 
alizing capital. Such explanations, racist and self- 
serving on the part of the analysts who offer them, 
are disguises for the major disruption to imperial- 
ism occasioned by the mobilizations and success of 
postwar (Second World— imperialist— War) 
national liberation movements (of course with var- 
ied degrees of achievement). T hat the dual decep- 
tions of comprador betrayal on the part of oppor- 


tunist elite national leaderships on the one hand, 
and false promises— development aid, technology 
transfer— swift restitution— IM F loans, DFI and 
structural adjustment— on the part of Capital on 
the other hand, does not diminish the fact that 
what we see played out in Asia today comes as a 
consequence of global struggles 
It could be argued that the "Asian Tiger" fantasy 
routine was in effect a deployment of self-serving 
elite hype. It was the product of a confluence of 
necessary bluster on the part of G ung-ho develop- 
ment enthusiasts (in this case the comprador elite), 
and the opportunist specialist swagger of expat 
experts in the international finance and economics 
related subdisciplines (what some might want to 
call the neocolonial administration). T he complici- 
ty of Mahathir (and Co.) in toadying to these 
"experts" in the pay of international capital is 
something that can be variously documented, 
though as always, the relationship between the 
comprador elite and the administration experts is 
sometimes a fraught one Not surprisingly since 
th^ are after all representatives of the competing 
interests of different sections of the capitalist sys- 
tem, there is sometimes hostility and disagreement 
on principles if not in practice (the dynamic of 
these contradictions is most clearly evident in 
Mahathir's insistence that Malaysia would not 
need the intervention of the World Bank, as 
I ndonesia seemed to require, because M alaysia had 
"already put in place the required measures" that 
the World Bank would have wanted in any case). 
The role of experts and specialists in the pay and 
also at times in "passive" critique of M ahathir and 
CO., is a part and parcel of the development trick 
that lead up to the crisis I would want to identify a 
range of specialist workers and several levels of 
expertise implicated in the project of fitting 
M alaysians up for participation in the internation- 
al economy and its exploitative extraction frames 
As a special illustrative case of the convoluted 
complicity of foreign experts, it is instructive to 
take up the rhetoric about women in technology 
and the M SC . So often expert development hype 
promises the advancement of the position of 
women through the liberating brilliance of techno- 
logical advance Parallel to the promises made to 
indigenous people about the viability of a market- 

based future (postnomadic, hunter-gatherer 
lifestyles, which were admittedly hard are to be 
replaced by the "new" opportunities of waged 
labor), the promise to women mouthed by the likes 
of Mahathir and some international women's 
advocacy groups alike, was that new work oppor- 
tunities would "free" women from the strictures 
and constraints of "traditional" oppression. It will 
of course be readily recognized that neither mar- 
ket economics of high-tech workplace jobs in 
themselves are liberatory when the context 
remains one of surplus value extraction and the 
fruits of advanced production only go to line the 
wallets of the administrative cliques In this sense it 
is possible to make a critique of those who are con- 
cerned in cliche ways only with women's labor in 
relation to the M SC and electronic industrializa- 
tion in M alaysia— however much it is the case that 
old and restrictive "traditional" constraints are 
broken when women or indigenous people enter 
the waged workforce, this does not necessarily lead 
yet to liberation, and those who may think so in a 
naive way should look to the ways capital finds uses 
and subsumes such "nimble fingers" and exotic 
workers in its advertising propaganda. 
But, after all this, who will be the high-tech work- 
ers in the M ultimedia Super Corridor? A layer of 
technocrats and experts will need to be recruited, 
from in part the expat M alaysian elites schooled in 
the salons of Stanford, MIT, London and 
M anchester, but in large part, at least in the first 
phases, the already existing personnel of the multi- 
national info-corps that are invited to "relocate" 
will provide staff for the most important posts 
This layer of imported workers will have expat 
lives and an expat status which is not far from the 
old "colonial career" that has always been the hall- 
mark of business empires under imperialism. 
These appointments will have several correspon- 
ding run-on effects I n this context consideration of 
the impact of recent technological innovation in 
the old metropoles upon those now engaged in the 
(neo)colonial manufacturing enclaves and the 
Special Economic Zones and so on, is required as 
a part of any assessment of tech-driven extension 
of exploitation in the "offshore" production sitesof 
Southeast Asia. G iven the range of projects aban- 
doned in the wake of the Ringitt crisis, why is it 


that M ahathir's dream is to go for the high-tech 
option instead of extending manufacturing for the 
local satellite regional economies (surely sales of 
medium-level manufactured goods to ASEAN 
partners holds strategic economic merit)? Is the 
high-tech only gambit not lil<ely to open still fur- 
ther the path of super profits and speculative super 
exploitation? A less stark, but nevertheless impor- 
tant, question is why the Special Export Zone 
option with the tax breaks* cheap labor, low ship- 
ping excises, and so on is no longer the preferred 
path, and is instead replaced by a risky corridor 
venture-chasing the possibility of "technology 
transfer" and rapid transit to a Bill Gates-spon- 
sored cyberfuture? T he problem is that the condi- 
tionsfor such transfer are not quite worked out and 
there is nothing to really entice the key parts of 
such corporations to the K L C orridor, nor are the 
generous tax concessions, infrastructure develop- 
ments and other State funded inducements calcu- 
lated to lock in technology transfer in a way that 
M alaysia could exploit in the long term. 

W hat, and who, is the M SC for? I s it again a proj- 
ect to make the elites rich, and one which does not 
contribute, except perhaps through the vagaries of 
trickle-down theory and a vicarious, somewhat 
quixotic, reflected glory which allows the 
Malaysian people to take pride in Mahathir's 
international notoriety? 0 r can it be demonstrated 
that the old international imperial production 
modes are magically reversed by the M SC , rather 
than continued in new format? Where once jun- 
gles were cleared for plantations, where these plan- 
tations were then cleared for condosand shopping 
malls (which lie empty or underused) and where 
the manufacturing sector was geared largely for 
export rather than ever for use or need, can it be 
that the multimedia development will somehow 
restore productive capacity to local priorities? Is 
multimedia the key to local content, local uses, 
local needs, or even to regional variants of these 
same priorities— the very priorities that we have 
too often learnt are always second to the goal of 
profitability, and which seem increasingly subject 
to the fluctuations and constraints of international 
competition? "The people's" interest in the trade 
in shares, the speculation on futures and the infra- 

structure development company extractions, are 
all based on some future payoff that does not 
arrive, or at the least does not arrive for the major- 
ity of M alaysians 0 f course there are a small few 
who have always benefited from exploitation of the 
country's economic efforts— be they the plantation 
owners, the condo contractors, or the new "big 
project" development engineers The problem is 
that instead of moving towards a more adequate 
mode of production, given regional and local con- 
ditions, possibilities and necessities, those setting 
the direction of economic activity in Malaysia 
seem to favor older selective benefit structures and 
priorities There is no indication that a leap for- 
ward into the M SC is likely to disrupt existing feu- 
dal discrepancies of income, lifestyle, or quality of 
life H ere the contradiction is the same one as that 
between colonial masters and peasant labor, such 
that I would suggest the designation "semifeudal, 
cybercolonial" for those situations where the most 
advanced technological capacities will benefit old 
social hierarchic formations that refuse to budge. 

Who will work in the MSC? The departure of 
many of M alaysia's "educated" classes to countries 
like Singapore, the U nited States and Australia is 
considered by some to be "significant" in the con- 
text of the M SC dream (See Yee Ai, Star, October 
6, 1997). That a potential "elite" entrepreneurial 
segment of the population left M alaysia to further 
their studies and careers overseas when quotasllm- 
iting University places for non-brumiputras were 
instituted under the "New Economic Policy" has 
had the consequence of positing a fabled brain- 
drain resource base of potential ex-Malaysian 
expats who could be enticed back to work in the IT 
labs of the MSC. In any case, supposing these 
brainy exiles were enticed back to the M SC , what 
is to stop the advanced layer of such workers being 
poached back to the superior labs of Silicon 
Valley? For that matter, what is to prevent the 
MSC from becoming the poaching ground for 
future M alaysian technology-educational cohorts 
to be shipped to the U.S.? 
But to focus on these workers is only to consider a 
tiny portion of the "job-creation-programme" 
that is the M SC . Overwhelmingly it is a kind of 
processed worker who will make up the majority 


of those who will build and work in the multime- 
dia corridor-fantasy city. These are people who 
must clean the labs and work the service sector, in 
the restaurants, in the apartment buildings, in the 
transport sector They are the line-workers, the 
cable-layers, ditch-diggers, copper miners (insofar 
as the cybercity still runs through wires), the optic 
fiber-blowers (insofar as it runs on glass), the light 
monitors, the carpet-layers, the cola-dispensing 
machine- restockers, the logo- painters, corporate 
design staff at the level of uniform tailoring, 
carpark attendants, rubbish- removers, rubbish 
collation, white paper- recyclers, glorified 
garbage- shredders of sophisticated environmen- 
tal mission statements, junk-mailers, home-shop- 
ping delivery agents, home-shoppers, wives, chil- 
dren, neglected pets Oftentimes these workers 
will be in insecure employment, many of them 
overseas nationals, of those, many "illegals." In 
some sectors, whole communities that provide 
support and sustenance for productive workers, 
adjacent reproductive workers, those without 
community those with only community displaced 
communities, illegal workers, illegal worker entre- 
preneurs, police crackdown, anti-immigration 
hysterics, typists of government propaganda and 
opportunity cogs in the machine. Sundry other- 
ness. T he wrong side of the international division 
of labor set out on the threshold of the condo, 
expat servants of all stripes... 
What Mahathir's image manipulators want to 
make of M alaysia is a manicured paradise for 
multinationals, and so this requires a certain 
degree of interventionist manipulation of the 
workforce at several levels— intensive training to 
equip support staff and engineer-technicians with 
requisite skills, service economy provisions (requir- 
ing also the trappings of the spinoff tourist indus- 
try), intensive building programme for offices, 
condos, air-conditioned shopping centers, and last 
but not least, the efficient removal of unorganized 
labor and "street clutter" in the form of vendors 
and other "illegals" The removal of street ven- 
dors is conceived along something like the same 
lines as the landscape gardening of the science 
park site, a beautification designed to appeal to 
the supposed streamlined elegance of Western 
corporate expectations (little matter that this prob- 

ably miscalculates the appeal of a Third World 
M alaysian site for Western corporations, who are 
in search not only of cheap labor and peripherals, 
but who also happily consume "clutter" as exotica, 
even when the street vendors curry is too hot, or 
the colors too garish. 

U nder the austerities imposed under the "crisis" 
(self-imposed, but they would be little different if 
the IM F had been invited to manage matters) the 
first adjustments to the aesthetic makeup of the 
work force has been to remove the vendors and 
illegals. In a perverse way this is only "really" 
about work permits and travel arrangements as 
the visas of all foreign workers are temporary 
T he free communication of freely active people is 
the slogan for generating the successful environ- 
ment for the research and development commu- 
nity, but the free development of all the people 
does not compute in this scene. T his is one of the 
major dysfunctions of the M SC in the context of 
the "crisis." The "foreign" workers brought to 
build such projects have now become a threat to 
the scheme. This has meant that one of the 
responses of M ahathir to the Ringitt crisis was to 
announce that significant numbers of foreign 
workers would have to be repatriated. This was 
not really a new call, but rather an older racist 
campaign given a new excuse. For some time the 
M alaysian Government has perpetrated a brutal 
crackdown on Tamils, Bangladeshis, and 
Indonesian workers in the Peninsula— from ran- 
dom stop-and-search leading to deportation, to a 
media campaign which creates resentment. This 
coupled with brumiputra policies favoring M alay 
ethnicity workers over Chinese and Indian 
M alaysian citizens makes the issue of race and 
opportunity a volatile one in Malaysia. Some 
250,000 of the 2 million foreign workers brought 
to M alaysia to work the big development schemes 
are expected to be deported by August of 1988, 
mostly Bangladeshis, Tamils, and Acehnese. 
Reuters reported in M arch that: 

Malaysia plans to deport some 200,000 foreign workers 
when their permits expire in August, a government official 
said Wednesday. The official Bernama news agency quot- 
ed Immigration Director-General Aseh Che Mat as saying 
employers had been told to prepare to send back foreign 


workers in the ailing services and construction sectors. 
Malaysia estimates that some 800,000 of 2 million foreign 
workers in the country are illegal. Since the beginning of 
the year, authorities have detained more than 17,000 peo- 
ple who were attempting to enter the country illegally. 
(March 1998) 

H owever, some kinds of foreign worl<ers are 0 K . 
Wlien it comes to tlie glamour projects of devel- 
opment capitalism certain of the experts, expats, 
and entrepreneurs are exempt from M aliathir's 
racist gaze. As the economic downturn leads to 
cutbacks at the M SC , its local workers, not expats, 
who are being retrenched. At risk of further 
racism, M ahathir and his cronies now find them- 
selves in a double bind. They have invited "too 
many" low-skilled construction workers in to build 
twin towers, airports, and so on and want to get rid 
of them, while at the same time they want expert 
development and high-skilled expats to arrive in 
numbers in the hope that the future may arrive by 
way of that alchemy known as "technology trans- 
fer." It should be no surprise that workforce 
recruitment takes hierarchical and politically 
charged forms 

Among the "service workers" one special category 
has often been singled out. T hese workers— young 
M alay women— are found to be particularly suited 
to high-tech process work by way of cultural con- 
ditioning, small-tasks competence, and the 
mechanics of basket-weaving This kind of racist 
characterization appears in barely modified form 
in the M SC prospectus and other documents— 
"labour so easy to train" says a FIDA brochure on 
investment opportunities This is the gendered ver- 
sion of the same stupidity that once upon a time 
would explain Japanese technical ascendancy in 
electronic goods manufacture by claiming that 
because the shorter Japanese worker stood closer 
to the workbench greater attention to detail pro- 
duced superior products T he position of women 
in feudal structures does seem replicated in telem- 
atic times, yet explanation based upon the "cultur- 
al" would seem most suited to those who would 
occlude the political, and any talk of exploitation. 
What are the conditions of takeoff for M ahathir's 
proposed dreamscape? The prospects for synergy 
and innovative creative hyper invention rely upon 

the relocation of corporate R&D which is less than 
likely to arrive. The "milieu of innovation" that 
fuels the successful ventures of this kind does not 
yet seem to exist in the M alaysian plan— though 
there certainly is the fab idea in the proposal to 
build a "cyberversity." The international division 
of labor, the agendas and opportunisms of the 
neoimperialist world order, the short term interests 
of monopoly capital and the inability to provide a 
lock-on to capital and technology which may relo- 
cate to M alaysia are not, none of them, addressed 
in the promotional or planning literature. There 
are very real obstacles which would need to be 
solved if any technology project were to succeed in 
the East Asian sphere, given that Gates has said 
that M icrosoft will not shift its "fundamental" 
research outside the U.S., it is not a grand prospect. 
The realities of the international economy do not 
favor such projects outside the already entrenched 
centers The cost to the Malaysian state, and so 
therefore the public purse, is likely to be greater 
than that which can be recouped in the short or 
long term. 

At the risk of inviting the wrath of the "recalci- 
trant" prime minister, a different series of ques- 
tions could be asked, ones that would be less gen- 
erous, but not less plausible in their speculations: 
for starters, who will profit from the development 
of the M SC? Do Prime M inister M ahathir and his 
cronies, the elites and supporters of the good news 
propaganda in the press, have capital invested in 
the multimedia transnationals that may locate in 
the M SC corridor? If Malaysian elite capital is 
attached to Bill Gates's capital, then perhaps the 
M SC makes sense for them, if not it isjust a corri- 
dor crying out (perhaps in vain) for Gates's profi- 
teering. Or, alternately do Mahathir and other 
members of the M alaysian elite have capital tied 
up in the construction industry? This we know is 
the case from the controversy around the company 
Ekran and its now stalled plans to build the Bakun 
hydro electrical dam in Sarawak (flooding the 
homes of 10,000 Orang Ulu peoples). But surely 
those that have holdings in construction could just 
keep on making money out of condos, dams, 
hotels, and roads, and so all this info and multime- 
dia stuff is too risky speculation? Why go for this 
high-tech biz? Isn't building factories and ware- 


houses for offshore assembly and export processing 
profitable enough? I sthe writing on the wall in that 
sector— and does it say build corridors not facto- 
ries, the end of manufacturing profit is nigh? Or, 
considering the most cynical case, will this Super 
Corridor actually have anything in it?— or is it just 
a flash way of selling more construction (with cor- 
responding bribes and kicl<backsetc.)? Even if the 
RSiD firms were to locate some of their lower level 
R&D in the corridor, how long would it stay- 
high-tech production is very short on shelf life, and 
very mobile in terms of setups What is the prog- 
nosis for the economics of the project if even these 

simple questions are so obvious? Surely better ana- 
lysts have seen that the gains are not there. What 
are the justifications? Is it so far off base to suspect 
the recent fluctuations of the share market indicate 
where the problems lie— this is a virtual, rather 
than actual, development, and 2020 is a very long 
way off. 

[A longer version of this paper will appear in T he Planetary Work 
M achine, edited by Franco Barchiesi and Steve Wright (forth- 



DATE: THU, 8 OCT 1998 02:11:55 +0200 


Some Reporter's N otes on the Syndicate M eeting 
"Piramedia," June 1998 

The Albanian capital definitely offers a lot more 
"reality one can cope with," as Geert Lovink put 
it lately Visitors with some previous experience 
with deep-East airports weren't very surprised at 
seeing cows and horses calm standing very near 
the planes, but for some Westerners that is defi- 
nitely the first huge shock on such a trip. But, the 
airplane made a 180-degree turn, and then went 
back to the only runway leading to the airport 
building— something new for every one. But, it 
would be nice if the plane took us to the building. 
Passengers come off the plane some 300 meters 
from the building, and the road to it (if you are 
lucky enough to avoid all the parked planes) is 
more like some south American ministate. 
Arcades with palms, and a building the size of a 
smaller railway station somewhere in central 
Europe, sounds like a bad recommendation for 
future stays But, what one sees at first look is usu- 
ally wrong. Sure, T he poverty present at the only 

international airport is widely spread all around 
the town, but it's purely the result of decades of 
isolation, because the town is extremely interest- 
ing as soon as you are willing to look beyond the 
feeble facade. 

First, the obvious thing on the streets is— coexis- 
tence. Animals and humans If Trieste is known as 
a city of cats T irana is definitely the city of dogs 
0 n every corner there are a lot of street dogs lay- 
ing on the sun, and usually they are completely 
harmless, even if you decide to take a night tour. 
Perhaps they look a little bit different to someone 
with a "strange smell," but they refrain even from 
howling, not to mention from doing anything 
more serious Beyond dogs Tirana is also famous 
for its M ercedes Benz population; according to the 
receptionist in the Hotel California, the city has 
the highest number of M ercedes per capita in the 
world, and even more of the old diesel versions 
Walking around it's not hard to believe that— 
every second car is really a M ercedes T here is no 
clear explanation for that passion, because 
M ercedes are driven not only by nouveau riche, 


but by everyone who is able to collect some money. 
Which is not an easy tasl<. Beyond smuggling 
everything possible (which should be patented as a 
Balkan occupation), there are very few possibilities 
for earning money Industry is in ruins, which is 
obvious if a traveler goes to the coast, as we did. 
People are a special story— the usual European 
and (especially) the old Yugoslavian stereotype of 
Albanians as a short, dark, dirty people is not only 
racist, but also completely wrong. I t's true that you 
can spot some shorter people with darker skin, but 
not much more than in any European town; it's 
also a fact that there are a lot of blond people, par- 
ticularly women. In the Museum of National 
H istory (which is outside of the newer, pathetic 
wing about victims of communism, which is 
arranged with lot of taste), it's possible to find a 
reason for that. Through the area that is today 
Albania passed many armies and many nations, 
and even the roots of today's habitants are some- 
where in the deep, deep past B.C. M ostof the peo- 
ple originate from llirians, and those nation defi- 
nitely do not fit the "short, black" stereotype— 
these characteristics arrived with the Slavic migra- 
tions and after, and mostly in the northern part of 
the country 

T he main street, a boulevard in the full sense, goes 
from one ade of the town to another, and it's 
always rush hour. All of life is somehow placed on 
a street— in front of numerous bars pizzerias and 
restaurants, with here and there in-between some 
Admiral Clubs with slot machine. Everything isfull 
of people; they are walking, sitting, talking, drink- 
ing, eating, kissing— the street is not only a public 
but a social space. One special advantage of 
Tirana is a huge park with a virgin lake only ten 
minutes from the university complex, which closes 
off one end of the main street. T he most fascinat- 
ing thing about that oasis of peace is that there is 
not a single bar on the shore— definitely a pleasant 
alternative in our fast-paced, stressful way of life. 
I t's not surprising that people are more open, more 
communicative, with more happier faces than 
anywhere else. In a middle of the boulevard is a 
main square with a huge hotel for foreigners the 
national opera building (very much like similar 
buildings all around Russian and the East and the 
already mentioned N ational M useum. T here's also 

a big statue of the national hero, Skender-beg, and 
a national bank. A good proof of Albanians' 
extraordinary sense of humor is that they have 
built a small luna-park in the middle of the city 
center. T he former residence of Enver H oxha is to 
be honest, nothing special. If the interior is in 
accordance with its size and external look, he was 
not so lucky compared to other socialist leaders 
But if Tirana offers a picture of normality outside 
of the capital it's not such a bright situation. 
Coming back from a small party outside of town, 
we passed a couple of police patrols butAstrit, our 
host and driver, didn't pay any attention to them— 
except the one some five kilometers from the town. 
Every vehicle coming to town is stopped at that 
point and searched. Later I heard that this check- 
point is not formal but a real border, beyond 
which, in theory no one can guarantee any kind of 
safety. T he army does not have enough arms and 
most of the policemen (there are a lot of them) 
carry them on a pro forma basis— they have no 
munitions Almost everything was stolen during 
the rebellion time; in a video piece by one of the 
students we even saw people taking a plane from 
storage. T hey had no clue about flying 
T he common impression given of life on the edge, 
the permanent possibility of further political 
instability also could be observed in the artworks 
that we saw. The video productions by students 
from the Academy prove the overall thesis that it's 
not technical richness, but content that counts If 
I compare those low-tech works with, let's say the 
usual Japanese productions for Ars Electronica— 
it's clear that the Japanese are (in most of the 
cases) just playing with technology trying to reach 
"boundaries"; Albanian video was about art pro- 
cessing and the exploration of real life, which art 
is probably all about. In the three pieces we saw 
the problem of modest technical equipment was 
pushed aside by the content. T he emphasis was on 
contemporary or very recent political situations 
and on sociocultural trends, namely patriarchy 
and society's conservativism. Those pieces were 
not masterworks but the second, for example, 
showed part of a day in one woman's life and illus- 
trated women's perpetual work, the repetition of 
service to the family no privacy and so on, with its 
conclusion (women who'd been going in and out 


of house front doors many times to pick up tlie 
laundry, to bring food, wood, etc., finally locked 
the door and metaphorically said no to the stereo- 
typed roles of women in Albanian society); this 
work will definitely be a candidate for an award at 
any video festival. 

It's clear that Albanian media art (at the moment 
mainly video and video installations) has incredible 
potential, which was proven again during the 
annual exhibition this year in June. The positive 
strategic point, in my opinion, is that the years of 
isolation with all the problems also brought with 
them freshness and originality, so rare in most of 
the better informed post-East countries There is 
no tradition of following and copying "big 
authors" (for example. Bill Viola's influence on 
Polish video in the eighties— here "great masters" 
simply do not exist), so the authors have an open 
field for exploring, learning, and creating, without 
needing to pay attention to contemporary trends 
and fashion, or to follow a conformist history of 
art. In a sense, with no history of exiled art popu- 
lations returning to the country after '89, with a 
lack of information about recent projects in 
Europe and around the world, artists here have 
more freedom to play to enjoy their work, and 
don't have to pay so much attention to curators' 
and gallerists' demands; they can explore "pure" 
artistic vig'ons, methods, and models Their best 
chance lies in the fact that to a certain degree, they 
have already developed personal artistic character, 
and coming in contact with "outside" world may 
(and I strongly believe, will) result in playful and 
original works, not just in pure (or not so pure) 
copies of what is going on in the "centers of art," 
wherever they are. The peripheral position of 
T irana and Albania in general might lead them to 
have a mixture of styles and techniques, with a 
strong emphasis on their own cultural capital, 
because they already are using ideas and concepts 
of western art, not blindly but using methods of 
rethinking, reusing, recycling.. .recombinant culture 
indeed! T he exhibition at the Academy by the stu- 
dents of textile department, was more or less the 
same story— freshness, originality, good content, 
and context, all at the same time. 
We might observe a wide synthesis of arts with dif- 
ferent origins in space and time, namely from 

motifs that are not only from different places, but 
that also belong to different styles— all the things 
so desperately missing, let's say from SCCA's annu- 
al exhibitions in so many countries The general 
impression of Tirana, both on a "real-life" and 
"artistic" level, led us to the conclusion that this is 
definitely a country that will emerge very soon on 
the cultural map of Europe, and that visits to 
Albania will soon not just be restricted to those 
who are there by accident or those who want to 
make some money fast; anyone who will dare to 
consider themselves European will soon need to 
visit there. Often. BecauseAlbania, and particular- 
ly T irana, offers a different picture of the Balkans 
1 1 is different from the usual stereotypes created by 
"Europe" and by the "civilized West"— -stereo- 
types about disorder, wars, dirtiness, the 0 rient in 
a negative sense. If Tirana is a good enough 
example of the Balkans, and it should be, then it's 
hard not to claim that Balkan is beautiful. 

[Edited by Hope Kurtz.] 



DATE: WED, 17 DEC 1997 05:09:46 +0100 MET 

"Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation 
(NTT) signs a joint venture to develop "Cyber- 
jaya", an intelligent city destined to become the 
center of M alaysia's M ultimedia Super Corridor." 

— NTT press release, M ay 7, 1997 

BUYONEGETONE derives its name from hap- 
py hour at Sphinx in Sol Silom, Bangkok. The 
project explores a digital (co)existence that is 
borne out of net technology. While Southeast Asia 
builds Cyberjaya and Africa safaris on the net, we 
travel to test the limits of national and electronic 
border patrols 

A cyberhomesteader drifting, accessing with a bor- 
rowed password passing with a torn ID card, 
homepage, homeless page, buy one get one 
As a matter of national security we simply don't 
allow people from certain countries to hop on a 
plane with an uninspected suitcase, leave the air- 
port without going through customs, and walk into 
a bank. But today there is nothing to stop a com- 
puter hacker in I ran from sitting at a terminal and 
traveling to that same bank over the I nternet. 

— Simson L. Garfinkel, on Electronic BorderCon- 
trol, H otwi red, July 14, 1997 

Shanghai. 11.17.1997, NO VISA. 

Shanghai, November 17: 

If you areChinese, why doyou have a U.S. passport? 

— Immigration official, Shanghai International 

Taipei, December 2: 

You conquered me. And me? I lost but I also tri- 
umphed. H ow could I not? I have learned so much 
from you. I can do anything now. You have edu- 

cated me in the finer points of a civilizing empire. 
To savor the sound of the teapot's wet bottom cir- 
cling the lip of the warming bowl. You taught me 
the way to speak your language. To start thinking 
of myself as a human being An individual. With 
skin in place of borders and 99 channels in place 
of a memory You have taught me many things 


Bangkok, November 15: 

Chai yen yen. Keep a cool heart. Something you 
say in the clotted arteries of the city of angels 
Something you say to remind yourself you were 
not always hurtling forward. Listen carefully 
U nder the hum of the idling motor, the clatter of 
the fallen baht, there is a more insistent song 
Something that calls you to reflect on the rampant 
materialism that's permeated the core of life in this 
part of the world. To reflect on the echo of your 
empty bank account, the shopping bags in your 
hand, the price of the ticket. 
Two digital suitcases modeled after Japanese style 
bentobox and equipped with powerbook, cameras 
phoneline and a hino maru bento (lunchbox with rice 
and ume/ plum) are netcast ready for H oM E deliv- 
ery One for the road, one for HoME in 
NTT/ ICC gallery 

5 November, 1997, 5 p.m. 
Uploading from CYBER CLUB, M aurya Shera- 
ton, New Delhi, India. Hosted by hotel's own 
leased phoneline and 64 kbps server 
log on: saudia. password: welcome 

Johannesburg, October 14: 
You maneuver the streets trying to lose your skin. 
With a suitcase of privilege in your once colored 
hands you try to become another transborder data 
flow, skimming the surfaces of oceans looted 


banks, whole cities still glittering under siege. All 
thisyou try to do without staining your feet. But as 
the ground seeps in through your callused soles 
you realize that technology is not a colorless media. 
Even as you try to jettison the essential encum- 
brances of the nation, the tribe, and the individual, 
the codes you have stored in your head become an 
anchor, fixing you to a place, a history a system in 
which you are even now participating 

T heT imesof India, New Delhi, November 6, 1997 

The information market is a pattern of repro- 
cessing, repackaging, and reselling that we're 
familiar with from colonial times: the colonies 
provide the raw materials which are made into 
"finished" products in the West and then sold 
back to the colonies 

— Leo Fernandez, IndiaLink, the country's first 
computer communications system dedicated solely 
to development issues pertaining to the environ- 
ment, women, children and human rights 

Delhi, November 3: 

T he bottle of water in my hand promises that it's 
"Triple sterilized: No lead. No chlorine. No 
smell." I've been drinking religiously from it, but 
I'm still bedridden with a flu. My head is con- 
gested with the same traffic of viruses with which 
the Flatted Factory Complex is teeming. In this 
shabby barely lit block of concrete, hundreds of 
electronic companies have set up shop. The 
stench of excrement competes with the perfumed 
promises of technology It's here, in a cramped 
back office of an agent for the government run 
ISP, that we log on for the first time in Delhi. 
Less than an hour away the M aurya Sheraton's 
exclusive Cyber Club promises internet access in 
pristine, streamlined surroundings facilitated by 
the hotel'sown server. This isthe promise of tech- 
nology in this part of the world: a fantasy of 
ordered streets, access to information and securi- 
ty. But the reality is closer to the halls of the 
Flatted Factory Complex, a place that is always 
open to the threat and possibilities of contagion. 
Lee Chan's mother is seventy-two years old. She 

recalled that during the wartime everyone had to 
bring a hino-maru bento for lunch to school on the 
first of every month. Called "Revival of Asia 
Day" no one was allowed anything but rice and 
the umeboshi. It was meant to train ordinary folks 
to experience the wartime "frontline" 
— from Claire and Marou's email 

H arare, 0 ctober 19: 

A Fanonian safari affair: tea served in the bush by 
tuxedoed Shona waiters a tour through a game 
reservation with all these pruney English people 
"T hat's a giraffe, isn't it? G iraffes eat their young 
for breakfast, don't they?" 
Language becomes a mirror, where any attempt at 
dialog becomes merely an exercise in confirming 
the white man's expertise. 
There isthe appearance of an interactive economy 
on the web, but don't most folks use Web sites like 
Game Boys? In order to truly intervene and inter- 
act with this circuit, it's necessary to adopt a differ- 
ent kind of reflex. 

Try this: shatter the mirror, then pick up the 
glass and use it like a razor to cleave yourself 
from yourself. 

Seoul, November 23: 

It isa condition of life in theT bird World to deny 
your place in it. But no matter how high the sky- 
scrapers or how well paved the road, no matter 
how fast the speed or sophisticated the violence, 
no matter how long ago modernity triumphed 
and raised its imperial flag here, no matter how 
many places develop where the word "cyber" can 
be affixed, nothing can hide the scent of teargas 
on your breath. T he song in the noraebang remains 
the same. We still rule over the ruins of miracles 

Singapore, November 9: 

I suppose this is as good a place as any to consid- 
er your paranoia and how it has shaped our jour- 
ney A state of paranoia is necessary for main- 
taining any identity Without the fear of disap- 
pearing into the black world around you, the bor- 
ders of our bodies would vanish. I n Singapore, it 
feels like someone is always watching, monitoring 
your every indiscretion. Everything seems to try 
to reinscribe the permanent identity of a state 


against tlie flows of travel and trade. Let's face it, 

witliout fear, you are nothing. 
0 n the road, the digisuitcase is net transmission 
central, our last hold to a connection, an interface 
between travelers and marketplace locals, our 
attachment to H oM E/ System M ainframe. I n the 
gallery, the bento suitcase serves as gateway for 
gallery visitors When in doubt, PRESS. M emory 
chips scramble. Reprogramable autoagents shut- 
tle down the assembly line. 

T he Daily Star, Beirut, October 24, 1997 

T he/ try to send a virus to the page, a form of elec- 
tronic detonation. T h^ send a message millions of 
times— which could take up all our capacity. T here 
is no dialog. T his is not a struggle over a piece of 
land, it is a clash of civilizations 
"Between Arab civilization and, if one exists, 
Israeli civilization. The media has always concen- 
trated on the Islamic Resistance as a military oper- 
ation, but resistance is not just a military matter. 
Combatting Zionism requires the most advanced 
technology in order to counter the directed media 
and to convey our views" 
— Hassan Naami, publicity director of the 
Islamic Resistance Support Association on the 
M oqawama website 

Beirut, October 29: 

Beirut is a fabric of ideas, different tenses that exist 
in the same sentence. 

T here is the Beirut before the war, the R iviera of 
the Arab world captured in the postcards that are 
still on sale everywhere. Then, there is the Beirut 
that will be, Solidere'sH ong Kong of the next mil- 
lennium, dreamed up on architectural plans and 
real-estate brochures Then, there are the few 
remaining edifices of bombed out buildings 
Across the street from the construction site for 
Sodeco Square, in a crumbling building that archi- 
tectural activists have temporarily saved from dem- 
olition, we wander up a staircase into a sand- 
bagged snipers' lair. The ground is littered with 
newspapers from 1978 and invoices from the eight- 
ies I find a photo of someone's wedding under 

some broken tiles The urge to forget lives on the 
same street as the desire for nostalgia. 
The existing ruling class in Malaysia forms an 
unbroken link with the colonial past. T hey operat- 
ed with colonial categories of thought despite their 
anti-colonial pronouncements Their concept of 
property, income tax, business institution and the 
state, are still dominated by colonial categories 

— Syed H ussin Alatas "T he M yth of the Lazy N ative" 
Asian cultural values will help bring M alaysia out 
of its current economic crisis 

— Prime M inister M ahathir M ohammed 

Penang, M alaysia, November 13: 
M y birthplace flashes by in a current of nostalgic 
bytes and futuristic promises T he lure of calling 
this place home again has never been stronger. 
Even in the midst of the depression, the excite- 
ment of the future is infectious: hearing M ahathir 
rail against Western hegemony watching mani- 
cured offices rise like refined Javanese palaces out 
of the plantation oilpalms at Cyberjaya in KL. 
Wandering the backlots of the Free Trade Zone 
in Penang, I pass aisles of young kampung 
women boarding company hired buses that take 
them back home: every step of their lives is 
accounted for. There is the feeling here that the 
Third World can keep some of its own rightful 
harvest rather than deliver it all to overdeveloped 
nations The Keretapi Tanah M elayu carries me 
across the promised land. A train pushing for- 
ward through the forest of signs Its engines 
screeching out a nervous lullaby 
During the two month period of the NTT/ ICC 
Biennial Exhibition, we claim our HoME in 
Tokyo gallery space and in the telecommunica- 
tion mainframe. Tracing a route that recalls seeds 
of discontent, we'll be locating net connection 
and logon in every city Recharging desire carried 
on trade winds between Africa and Asia, we'll be 
uploading and "furnishing" our H oM E with wall- 
papers of the ever-developing, shuffling memory 
chips as we cross the borderlines of hyperlink 

I.D. card. I.D. card 

— Hong Kong policeman who stopped me in a 


H ong K ong, D ecember 5: 
I s it possible tliat a city could just disappear? T hat 
a friendship could vanish into the tabula rasa of a 
new year? Suddenly in this city with no precolonial 
past, there is no history: only a colonial present and 
the imminence of its disappearance. That's the 
dream, anyway: that there are no places left to live. 
0 nly spaces of transit. But the transients of H ong 
Kong woke up from a dream to find that in their 
restless sleep they had built a city that could never 
vanish: a glittering mainframe of glass, steel and 
speed. They rose to find th^ had become their 
colonial masters, hungrily feeding on newer forms 
of migrant life. 

Just when you thinl< you've reached the end of the 
line. When nothing more can happen to you. Just 
when you thinl< you have returned to your mother- 
land, a lovely witch curses you. Exiles you to forev- 
er live in a place called In Between. But this barren 
island turns out to be a paradise, linl<ed to the 
mainland by twelve different superhighways and a 
multimedia supercorridor. You become a winged 
cypher, a stupid angel with no legs that flies forev- 
er and lands only when he dies 
The networl<s of the future will be digital. Th^ 
will be intelligent. They will be defined and con- 
trolled by software. They will offer high transmis- 
sion capacity and flexible bandwidth. They will 
have open architectures so that they can be easily 
accessed and interconnected. They will convey 
information from every possible source— by put- 
ting us in touch with other human beings, infor- 
mation, by sensing what is happening in natural 
and man-made environments 
— Dr. Pel<ka Tarjanne of International Telecom- 
munication Union (ITU) speaking on the subject 
of Africa and the Information Superhighway, 
M arch 18, 1995 

Africans are good at playing with ideas, but not as 
good at actualizing them. But the Internet is the 
the only chance Africa has to narrow the gap; the 
first time the West can't use information to black- 
mail Africa. All the studies that are done on 
forestry and agriculture by U N bodies and foreign 
aid organizations would ordinarily be lingering in 
files in cities like Paris or London or Washington. 
But with the Web, Africans can access those 
reports in their home countries 

— Dr. Nil Narku Quaynor, Network Computer 
Systems, Ghana's home-grown ISP 

Accra, October 24: 

I n order to send an email from G hana to neigh- 
boring Cote d'l voire, a former French colony 
the messages are rerouted through Paris. We 
leave Accra for Abidjan to make a connection to 
Beirut. T he manager of M iddle East Air reviews 
my passport and asks me if I 'm of Lebanese ori- 
gin. Too exhausted to lie, I say no, and he refus- 
es to accept our tickets. T he plane takes off with 
us still on the ground. The only way out of 
Abidjan is to go to Paris 

["BuyOneGetOne was a two-month homestead i ng proj ect for 
the NTT/ ICC Biennial, Tol<yo, October 25 - December 7, 
1997. See <http;/ / H oM E >.] 



DATE: SAT, 10 OCT 1998 10:08:32 +0200 (MET DST) 

"You're only real with your make-up on." 
— Neil Young 

It is my personal commitment to combine cyber- 
pragmatism and media activism with pleasurable 
forms of European nihilism. Celebrate the short 
heroic epics on the everyday life of the media, 
reporting from within the belly of the beast, fully 
aware of its own futile existence, compared to the 
millennial powers to be. We ain't no salespeople, 
trying to sell the award-winning model among the 
digital cities, some exotic Amsterdam blend of old 
and new media or yet another disastrous set of 
ideas, made in Europe. Instead, we are trying to 
exchange models, arguments, and experiences on 
how to organize our cultural and political activi- 
ties, finance media projects and create informal 
networks of trust that will make life in this 
Babylon bearable. 

Do you think of the internet as a gnostic conspira- 
cy against the rotting, material world we all would 
like to leave behind? Well, to be honest, I don't. 
Seen from an anticapitalist, activist, and 
autonomous/ anarcho point of view, media are 
first of all pragmatic tools, not metaphysical enti- 
ties The Ideology of New M edia comes second 
and should not uphold any of our activities M edia 
theory net criticism, computer archeology cultur- 
al studies, digital art critique, and so on give us an 
understanding of the Laws of Media, but they 
should not become a goal in itself, despite all of 
passion for these heroic-marginal supra-intellectu- 
al enterprises For me, it is too easy to make the 
fancy and at the same time fairly realistic state- 
ment, that we should disappear from the realm of 
the virtual and return to "social action." This legit- 
imate call to leavethelnfosphereand appear again 
on the level of the Street, is making a false distinc- 
tion between real and virtual policies Social move- 
ments have always had a wide variety of media- 

related activities Each action (even the most direct 
one) has a high level of information, addressing 
different groups and targets M edia, in this respect, 
express social relations in a very strong way 
New media is a dirty business, full of traps and 
seductive offers to work for "the other side." 
There are no ways to keep your hands clean. The 
computer is a deadly machine when it comes to 
inclusion and exclusion. We, the workers on the 
conceptual forefront of cyberculture, have to 
admit that we are not (yet) politically correct and 
have failed so far to pass the PC test. T his is not 
because these criteria are deliberately neglected, 
but because the passions lie elsewhere. For the 
time being, the struggle is about the definition of 
the terms under which the Information Society 
will become operational. The Short Summer of 
the I nternet, now rushing to its close, is about the 
production of cultural and political concepts, 
which may or may not, be implemented on a 
much larger scale. 

The gold rush is over. Prices of web design have 
fallen sharply We can see the rise of the H T M L 
slaves, employed without contracts or health 
insurance, producing code for little or no money 
Small businesses disappear— not just ISPs but 
also in the art and design sector. 0 n the macro- 
economic level we have witnessed an unprece- 
dented series of mergers in the telecommunica- 
tion and media sector. T his has led, for example, 
to the near monopoly position of WorldCom. 0 r 
take the Spanish telecom giant Telefonica and its 
Intranet, which will soon control the entire 
Spanish-speaking world. 

This may only be the return of the suppressed, 
after a period of postmodern comfort, in this case 
late monopoly-capitalism. The undermining of 
the promising small and decentralized many-to- 
many ideology comes from within the IT sector. 
The development of the ultimate multimedia 


device, WebTV, turns out to be a classic trojan 
fiorse. Tfie mucin iiated one-to-many television, 
news and entertainment industries iiave now 
found a way to neutralize a potential competitor. 
Soon the content of web and TV will be the same. 
In this respect, all these push media are claiming 
all available bandwidth. 0 Ider features of the net, 
lil<e the newsgroups, with their democratic and 
decentralized logic, are dying out and are being 
replaced by monitored and edited online maga- 
zines and chat rooms Internal surveillance of net 
use and private email is on the rise due to the 
introduction of intranets of buildings, companies, 
and entire countries Another alarming tendency 
may be the withdrawal from the internet of uni- 
versities and research centers, which are now 
worl<ing with much faster and secure computer 
networks We know the sad fates But let's not let 
them set our agenda. 

M edia activism nowadays is about the art of get- 
ting access (to buildings, networks, resources), 
hacking the power and withdrawal at the right 
moment. I t's not about the expression of truth or a 
higher goal. The current political and social con- 
flicts are way too fluid and complex to be dealt 
with in such one-dimension models like propagan- 
da, publicity, or edutainment. It is not sufficient to 
just put your information out on a homepage, pro- 
duce a video or pamphlet, and so on and then just 
wait until something happens T he potential power 
of mass media has successfully been crippled. 
Today reproduction alone is meaningless. M ost 
likely tactical data are replicating themselves as 
viruses Programmed as highly resistant, long-last- 
ing memes, the new ideas are being constructed to 
weaken global capitalism in the long term. No 
apocalyptic or revolutionary expectations here, 
despite all rumors of an upcoming Big Crash of 
the financial markets U nlike the Russian commu- 
nist world empire, casino capitalism will not just 
disappear overnight. Heaps of deprivation and 
alienation is ahead of us But this should not be the 
reason to lay back and become console socialists 
We need organizations of our time, like the global 
labor union of digital artisans networks of travel- 
ers mailing-list movements a gift economy of 
public content. T hese are all conceptual art pieces 
to start with, realized on the spot, somewhere, for 

no particular reason, lacking global ambition. 
T hese models will not be envig'oned by this or that 
Hakim Bey They are lived experiences before 
they become myths ready to be mediated and 
transformed on their journey through time 
Time to move on. The permanent digital revolu- 
tion in danger of becoming a reformist project? 
T he system is effectively taking over, even sucking 
itself into the intimate spheres of friendships and 
personal aims T he objective Wheel of Net H istory 
is taking subjective tolls Time slips away and we 
are caught up in something we never really want- 
ed in the first place Web design for Dummies 
Anxiety over nothing Debates with nothing at 
stake Rivalries when there is plenty of loot. But 
wait a minute. We know all this The so-called 
unavoidable process of decay is not God-given or 
a Law of Nature It is about time to introduce 
intelligent social feed-back systems Indeed, a 
Collective/ Connected Intelligence (thanks Pierre 
Levy and Derek deK erckhove!) that can overcome 
the rather primitive twentieth-century model of 
birth, rise, success, and fall that numerous groups 
and movements have gone through. It should be 
possible to resist both historical and technological 
determinism, or at least to play a game with these 
now predictable forces This is the search for a 
media theory or digital studies in which we can 
finally fit the charming or rather fatal wetware fac- 
tor within the larger forces of hardware and soft- 
ware development. 

Linking up real communities within a strong, local 
context, while strengthening the cultural identities 
remains one of the (secret) recipiesof the internet. 
As Saskia Sassen points out, computer networks 
are not wiping out locality— quite the opposite We 
will, most likely find emerging virtual community 
networks in places where communities prosper 
anyway Technology alone will not do the job. 
Sustainable networks will not emerge in places 
with poor/ low local self-esteem. A persistent drive 
to escape will not result in the development of dig- 
ital cultures despite the official internet ideology 
which is celebrating the so-called global, dislocal 
qualities of new media. On the internet no one 
knows you are chatting with your nextdoor neigh- 
bor. Denying the really existing local qualities (or 
misery) is of little use. If isolation and despair are 


widespread, and disorganization rules, this is not 
because of the computer, nor can digital equip- 
ment help us out of daily misery. It is too easy to 
blame the machines as the cause of the current 
Really Existing Vagueness. It's up to us to bring 
people together and start some new initiative, the 
machine won't do that for us "T here is only one 
good use for a small town. You hate it and you 
l<now You'll have to leave it." All digital technolo- 
gies in the world will not change this bare fact. 
Computer mediated communication are lil<e 
megaphones— but they can only amplify existing 
signals, no matter how weak they are Eventually 
something will grow out of it. If there is nothing, 
all the newness will remain stale. 
Conciousness Regained. Radical media pragma- 
tism demands that the actors remain cool. Who 
can still proclaim to be M ultimedia after the mon- 
strous misuse of this term? Yes It should still be 
possible to ignore all market forces, cheap trends 
and keep on playing. There is a state of hyper- 
awareness, to transform, disappear, give up ter- 
rains that have been occupied, and continue at the 
same time What now counts is integrity. It is 
becoming easy these days to become resigned. 
T here are a thousand reasons to quit, or to contin- 
ue on the same grocery level. The world, struc- 
tured by precooked events, ready to be 
microwaved and consumed, can be rejected. 
Downright reality is unbearable these days. "No 
spiritual surrender," an Amsterdam graffiti says 
Colorless digital existence can be softened by self- 
made Utopias, hallucinatory experiences, with or 
without recreational drugs and technologies. 
Regular switching to other channels which are out- 
side the cyber realm is an option. T here are count- 
less universes 

It is silly to fight over an artificially created scarci- 
ty. The freedom of expression and media will only 
be fulfilled once the capability to broadcast has 
been fully incorporated in the daily life "of the bil- 
lions" In my view, every fight for liberation can 
contribute to the destruction of the media monop- 
olies by putting out some messages themselves 
(graffiti, pamphlets, zines, paintings, songs, 
imagery). Complaining about the multinational 
media giants is not enough. T he final goal should 
be the "democratization of the media" and even- 

tually the "abolition of media." This goes further 
than to merely participate in other people's forums 
or plain "public access." It means an overall dis- 
persion of equipment and knowledge into society. 
We should try to stop speaking for other people It 
is no longer our duty in the West, to produce their 
media items in a pseudojournalistic manner 
Nowadays, we can make a step further With the 
spread of camcorders, tape recorders, photo cam- 
eraSk xerox copy machines and. ..computers, ordi- 
nary people now have the possibility to produce 
"content" themselves Spread the knowledge of 
how to use and maintain the hard- and software 
and build up a common (global?) distribution sys- 
tem. A funny side-effect of this is that media will 
become less and less important. 
What form of organization media activism could 
take? While some truly discouraging stories from 
the economic forefront are on the rise, it is good to 
keep returning to the old question:" What is to be 
done?" A return of negative thinking could play an 
important role in the development of strategies for 
media activism. There is plenty of goodwill, and 
ruthless cynicism. W hat lacks is playful negativism, 
a nihilism on the run, never self-satisfied. Tactical, 
an ever-changing strategy of building infrastruc- 
turesand leaving them, when the time has come to 
leave the self build castles and move onward. T he 
explorations into the fields of the negative not only 
imply the hampering the evil forces of global cor- 
porate capitalism, but also formulating a critique 
of the dominant alternative formula: the Non 
Governmental 0 rganization. T he N GO is not just 
a model for aid organizations that have to correct 
the lack of government policies It is today's one 
and only option to change society: open up an 
office, start fund-raising, lease a xerox-machine, 
send out faxes. .and there you have your cus- 
tomized insurrection. "How to make to most of 
your rebellion." The professionalism inside the 
office culture of these networked organizations is 
the only model of media-related politics if we want 
to have a (positive) impact, or "make a difference." 
(as the ads use to call it). 

By now, third system/ N GO networks have lost 
their virginity. Tlie in-between sector is becoming 
an economic factor of importance. Unlike in the 
sixties and seventies, this culture is no longer radi- 


cal, Utopian, or even oppositional. T his lias mainly 
been due to their long-term success, not because of 
its failure, defeat or sell-out, as cultural pessimists 
would lil<e us to believe. Yes, capitalism has phan- 
tastic ability to integrate and neutralize all sorts of 
movements and forms of political and cultural 
resistance. But there are also other, more objective, 
economic developments at stake. NGOs have 
tal<en over vital functions of the welfare state. 
There is a pragmatic style of professionalism. A 
managerial class has taken over from the activists 
of the early days, while maintaining, even extend- 
ing the network of volunteers With mass unem- 
ployment not being solved in the short run, ungo- 
ing budget cuts on the side of the government and 
companies laying off workers,